Signature Healthcare: CA Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to $13.25M Verdict against Vista del Mar psych facility

July 20, 2022

The California State Supreme Court said Wednesday it won't hear a challenge over court decisions that said a Ventura psychiatric hospital shared liability for an employee's sexual contact with patients.

The denial comes after an appellate court affirmed a Ventura County Superior Court jury's decision three years ago to award $13.4 million to three women who had been patients at Vista del Mar Hospital. The women said Juan Valencia, a mental health worker who was later fired, committed sexual acts with each of them in 2013 after they were admitted for care related to bipolar disorder and psychosis.

Valencia later pleaded guilty to three charges including rape of an incompetent person.

Lawyers for Vista del Mar argued Valencia's sexual acts were hidden from employers with many taking place off campus. One of the three women, originally awarded $6.5 million, reached a post-trial settlement and dropped out of the case.

The jurors ruled the hospital, its parent company Signature Healthcare Services and Valencia shared responsibility. The Second District Court of Appeal upheld the verdict but ordered the trial court to examine whether Valencia's former employer is responsible for his share of payment.

Defendants challenged the appellate ruling, asking for a state supreme court review on when an employer can be held liable for a worker's actions. Health care industry groups including the California Hospital Association, the California Medical Association and the California Dental Association filed a brief supporting the defense.

Justices did not release a statement explaining the denial.

David Feldman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the supreme court's action helps protect vulnerable mental health patients by assigning more culpability to employers.

"It's fantastic. It really sets parameters," he said. "The wheels of justice move slowly. The system works."

The jury in 2019 split responsibility for payment of the award between the hospital, its parent company and Valencia. Tom Beach, an Oxnard lawyer representing Vista del Mar, declined comment Friday on the supreme court action but noted the appellate decision means questions still have to be answered about who pays what.

"The issues are now back in the trial court," he said.

Source: Tom Kisken, “High court lets verdict stand in Ventura hospital's sexual misconduct case,” Ventura County Star, July 17, 2022, URL:


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