Universal Health Services: BridgeWay Psych Facility Ordered to Pay $2.5 Verdict to Teen Who Was Raped

April 6, 2023

The BridgeWay mental-health hospital, admitting it had wronged a 14-year-old patient who was raped by one of its workers, was ordered Thursday to pay her $2.5 million by a Pulaski County jury following a three-day trial before Circuit Judge Herb Wright.

The victim is now 19, and the money will go into a trust fund overseen by a guardian and established to pay for her ongoing treatment, care and counseling. Her attorneys had asked for about 10 times that amount, $25.2 million, with $2.2 million -- representing about 10 years of mental health counseling and alcohol abuse services they say she needs -- going to compensate her for pain and suffering, mental anguish and costs of her care and treatment. They said jurors should make BridgeWay pay $23 million more to punish the North Little Rock hospital for what happened to her.

The woman's lawyer, Katresa Riffel of Oklahoma, told jurors the behavioral-health facility was negligent for hiring her attacker, labeling as "unexplainable" the hiring of a man BridgeWay administrators, among them its then-CEO Jason Miller, knew was on the state's Child Maltreatment Central Registry over accusations he'd molested a child at another hospital.

"If [he's] on the registry, why hire him?" she asked the six men and six women on the panel. "That should have been the end of this right here. The purpose of the registry is to avoid this entire situation."

The registry is a secret list maintained by the state Department of Human Services as an inventory of suspected child abusers and used to prevent them from adopting or fostering children as well as restricting or limiting their opportunities for employment at schools, day care centers, hospitals and nursing homes.

Riffel said BridgeWay administrators then compounded that mistake by the way they treated the teen after discovering what had happened to her, subjecting her to an inquiry by senior staff that left the woman feeling "dirty and ashamed."

The teen had come to BridgeWay at a "pivotal moment" in a life marked by drug addiction encouraged by her mother, alcohol abuse enabled by her father and repeated sexual abuse by her stepfather and stepbrother, Riffel said.

She was trusting hospital leaders to provide her with a safe space and BridgeWay let her down, the attorney told jurors. The experience has left the teen terrified of further in-patient treatment efforts, impeding her progress, Riffel said.

"BridgeWay took away her trust to get the help she needs," said Riffel, with co-counsel Darren Gibbs of Fayetteville.

Riffel told jurors that BridgeWay lawyers had spent most of the three-day proceedings downplaying how seriously ill she was but that her crippling anxiety, depression, struggles with alcohol and trust issues would take years of specialized treatment and care before she could do something as simple as enrolling in college. Jurors were able to see the teen themselves when she spent about 13 minutes testifying about her experiences at the hospital and how she came to be there on Wednesday.

"I felt very judged [by staff]," she said, describing how she'd been questioned about the attack. "I felt very judged. I felt they weren't asking to help me. They just wanted to know [details]."

With the hospital admitting negligence, jurors only had to decide how much BridgeWay should pay. Arriving at the $2.5 million award after about a little more than an hour's deliberation, the jury declined to require punitive damages.

Hospital lawyer Joseph Farchione of Colorado apologized for what happened to the girl but said the hospital should not be punished for the freak occurrence that allowed the worker to victimize her.

"We did fail [her]," he said. "We did not fail her because we intended to. We have admitted we were negligent."

Farchione, with co-counsel Ben Jackson and Cara Butler of Little Rock's Mitchell Williams Selig Gates and Woodyard firm, told jurors that BridgeWay needed to pay for what happened to her, asking them to order $750,000 in damages, enough money -- according to what her own lawyers had said -- to get her through special recovery programs her therapist had recommended, fund ongoing counseling and leave enough money to buy her a car and pay for college.

But the hospital should not be punished for what was essentially a fluke, a man hired to care for only adult patients was accidentally allowed one-time access to children, he said.

When he came to the BridgeWay, the man had no criminal convictions, had never been arrested while the incident that put him on the Maltreatment Registry had occurred 11 years earlier, Farchione said. Considerable thought was given to the man's hiring, the lawyer said, telling jurors that a hospital in the business of creating second chances for its patients sometimes is called on to provide second chances for its workers.

Farchione said BridgeWay did all of the right things once administrators learned the girl had been attacked, limiting access by male workers to children's wards, implementing a no-hire policy for anyone on the Maltreatment Registry, increasing video surveillance for child patients and redesigning the children's area to allow better observation of their rooms.

"We learned that with the best of judgment, the best of intentions, things can go wrong," he said.

Farchione also defended BridgeWay's efforts to investigate the attack, telling jurors administrators took all cautious and compassionate steps to support her, noting that she had been reluctant to disclose what had happened.

The teen did not come forward. Hospital staff first heard from other child patients that she'd been kissed by a worker, and she first said she had been kissed by the worker who had also touched her buttocks. The next day, she confided more fully in a trusted attendant that she had been raped.

An investigation by North Little Rock police did not result in charges against the man, 45-year-old Anthony Bernard Monk of Maumelle. Lawyers on both sides called Monk a rapist during the proceedings.

He was named as a co-defendant with BridgeWay in the lawsuit but did not respond to the litigation, resulting in the judge ruling that he had committed civil assault and battery on the teen, with jurors ordering Monk to pay $4 million, $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.

According to court records and trial testimony, Monk was hired as a mental-health associate in October 2016 and worked there full time until April 2017 when he switched to "per diem" status, meaning he was called in as needed to fill various positions at the hospital. He was generally considered a reliable worker, although his 90-day probationary employment status was doubled due to some issues. He was still on probation when he switched to the per diem status.

He is accused of raping the girl while she was alone in her room over the Independence Day weekend while her roommate was on leave. Her guardian filed the suit against Monk and BridgeWay in June 2018.

Court records further show that Monk was a residential assistant caretaker and a behavioral instructor at the Methodist Behavioral Hospital in Maumelle overseeing child patients in April 2005 when he was accused of molesting two girls, ages 16 and 14, with a confidential investigation by authorities ultimately determining he had sexually abused the older one, resulting in his placement on the Maltreatment Registry in May 2006. A third girl who had accused him withdrew her accusations.

The 16-year-old girl's family sued in circuit court the hospital, Monk and others involved in her care in 2006 with the litigation ending in a confidential out-of-court settlement in May 2009, court filings show.

Source: John Lynch, “Judge orders North Little Rock mental health facility to pay $2.5M in teen rape case,” Democrat-Gazette, Mar. 3, 2023, URL: https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2023/mar/03/judge-orders-nlr-mental-health-facility-to-pay-25/  

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