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On March 28th, after a two-week trial, a Champaign County, IL jury returned a $535M verdict in a case brought against The Pavilion Behavioral Health Center on behalf of our minor client A.T.  The Pavilion is wholly owned by Universal Health Services, Inc.  Our client was sexually assaulted and raped on December 5, 2020 by a 16-year-old male patient while she was admitted at the Defendant Pavilion’s mental health facility in Champaign, IL.  A.T. was 13 years old at the time.  The case was tried by Tim Cronin, John G. Simon and Nathan Perlmutter from our office.

Beginning around age 11, A.T. started having a number of significant mental health struggles.  These included severe depression, ADHD, anxiety, a mood disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and suicidal ideations.  She had a very difficult childhood.  When she was four years old, she was removed from her mother’s care and placed into foster care for 11 months.  A.T. eventually returned to live with her mother, but they had an explosive relationship, with her mother often listed as her main stressor when she was receiving mental health treatment, including two prior hospitalizations.  Because of her increase in symptoms, she was eventually admitted to the Pavilion facility on November 30, 2020.

While at the Defendant’s facility, A.T. was placed in the youth/adolescent unit.  It was a sealed unit on the second floor which had 30 beds across 20 rooms.  The youth/adolescent unit housed both male and female patients ages 4 through 17. Male and female patients were routinely placed in rooms next to each other without any doors or barriers separating the rooms.  We developed evidence in the case that this was profit driven.  Several former employees testified that while some effort was made to separate the male and female patients, the main goal handed down by management was to fill the beds.  They charged $1,500 per bed per day. The patient census history revealed that the facility was historically almost always at maximum patient capacity.

After multiple motions to compel and a sanction order, we were finally able to receive the assailant’s records, as well as hundreds of hours of security footage from the unit on the night in question.  The records showed that assailant arrived at the facility via a “secured” vehicle transfer from a similar mental health facility in Chicago where he punched out a second story window and escaped. His intake records stated that he had a history of violent and aggressive behavior towards both staff and patients. We also presented testimony of a whistleblower nurse who formerly worked on the youth/adolescent unit.  She testified that the Defendant facility knew the assailant had a history of sexually violent behavior before putting him in a room next to our client.  This was heavily disputed at trial.  Defense reluctantly admitted that the records showed he was aggressive but disputed that he was sexually violent.  Our whistleblower nurse testified she kept telling management that housing male and female patients in the same unit was dangerous, not just for patients but for the employees as well.

We also developed evidence that the facility, and in particular, the youth/adolescent unit was dangerously understaffed.  There were three shifts on the unit: day, evening and night. During the day and evening shifts, they kept a 4:1 patient to staff ratio.  So, for 30 kids that was 7 to 8 staff.  At night however, from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. the facility dropped the ratio to 10:1. In other words, 3 people who were responsible for watching and monitoring up to 30 youth/adolescent patients, one of whom stayed in the nursing station the entire time. The only requirements for employment as a mental health technician was a high school diploma and being 21 years of age.  No prior experience with mental health patients was required.

It was undisputed amongst the witnesses that the hallways on a unit like this must be watched continuously at all times, although at trial the defense attempted to argue otherwise. Several current and past employees admitted, however, it was impossible to watch the hallways at all times because they were understaffed and tasked with numerous other responsibilities. For instance, they had to perform checks and evaluations on each individual patient every 15 minutes because most of the children were on suicide watch. These 15-minute checks required the mental health technician to go into the room of each patient to check breathing, sleeping positions and document this information in each patient’s chart.  In addition to these duties, they were also tasked with doing the laundry, admissions, and other administrative responsibilities.

The youth/adolescent unit was equipped with 17 security cameras.  The monitors to those security cameras were in the nurse’s station on the unit.  However, no one was assigned responsibility to watch the monitors.  We were able to obtain 100+ hours of video footage from the security cameras in the hours leading up to the assault.  Clips from the security footage showed the assailant and his accomplice covering up several of the camera lenses with toothpaste approximately 75-90 minutes before the assailant lured A.T. into his room, as well as additional concerning misconduct throughout the night that should have put the staff on high alert to get the situation under control. The mental health technicians who were on the unit that night testified that they did not notice that the cameras had been blocked.  The nurse in the nurse’s station eventually admitted that she did notice the cameras had been blocked, but not until after the rape had occurred.  She said she reported it that night, but no one did anything further to investigate it.

We alleged that the Defendant’s failure to house patients safely, failure to provide adequate staffing, failure to monitor the halls, and failure to monitor the surveillance cameras contributed to cause the rape of the 13-year-old victim. The evidence and testimony revealed that long-term systemic failures, often motivated by profits, lead to this unfortunate occurrence. Despite what happened here, and all of the history on the youth/adolescent unit, the facility has not changed its policy regarding watching the cameras, its policies regarding separation of males and females, or its policies to address dangerously low staffing levels.

After an 8-day trial, the jury found in favor of Plaintiff on her negligence claim and her claim for punitive damages. In closing, we asked the jury for $75M in compensatory damages and $500M in punitive damages.  The jury was out for six hours.  They came back with $60M in compensatory and $475M in punitives for a total verdict of $535M.  We hope that this verdict brings closure to our client and serves as a reminder that accountability is essential in ensuring safety for all individuals seeking help, especially for those that are most vulnerable.

For additional information, contact Timothy Cronin at The Simon Firm, The Simon Law firm in St. Louis, is recognized as one of the “winningest firms in the United States” by The National Law Journal. The Simon Law Firm has earned over $1 billion in verdicts and settlements nationwide since its founding in 2000.

Contact The Simon Law Firm, P.C.

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