A judge has imposed severe sanctions on Centennial Hills Hospital Medical Center for intentionally concealing evidence in a civil case filed by a patient who was sexually assaulted at the Las Vegas hospital in 2008.
“Centennial failed to disclose relevant evidence that it knew it had a duty to disclose, caused extensive time to pass, and caused memories to fade,” District Judge Richard Scotti wrote in a 39-page order.
The order, dated Nov. 4, strikes Centennial’s answer in the case — a move that establishes liability against the hospital. When the case goes to trial Jan. 4, Centennial will be allowed to defend itself only on the question of damages.
Scotti also imposed a monetary sanction in the amount of $18,000, but that penalty alone cannot reverse the harm Centennial caused to the plaintiff, according to the order.
“A party who engages in misconduct must suffer reasonable consequences,” the judge wrote. “No party should be allowed to conceal evidence, and then suffer merely a monetary sanction, while being allowed to reap the tactical benefit of the loss of that evidence.”
Attorneys John Bemis and Michael Prangle, who represent Centennial, could not be reached for comment. In a statement released Friday, the hospital denied withholding or hiding evidence.
On Thursday, the hospital filed a motion asking Scotti to reconsider his order, arguing that he “went too far in finding that Centennial and its counsel willfully and intentionally sought to conceal relevant evidence with the intent to harm plaintiff.”
The plaintiff, who filed the case in 2009 as Jane Doe, was one of five female patients who were victimized by certified nursing assistant Steven Farmer.
The woman killed herself in 2013 at age 56. Her estate, represented by attorneys Robert Murdock and Eckley “Marty” Keach, continues to pursue the civil case in Clark County District Court.
Farmer, now 63, is serving a sentence of 30 years to life at Ely State Prison.
Scotti previously ruled that the hospital would be liable for the plaintiff’s damages if the plaintiff could prove that Farmer’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable.
In April, the woman’s attorneys sought sanctions against Centennial for failing to disclose that three nurses, including Margaret Wolfe, had knowledge of facts related to that issue. The attorneys had recently acquired a statement that Wolfe gave Las Vegas police on May 30, 2008.
Weeks before Farmer’s 2008 arrest, Wolfe was warned to watch him around female patients. Wolfe, then an emergency room nurse at Centennial, said her supervisor expressed concern because Farmer was overly attentive with female patients and anxious to connect and disconnect heart monitors — a task that required him to reach into patients’ clothing.
“For six years they told us they didn’t know anything about Farmer, when they absolutely did,” Murdock said earlier this year.
According to a defense document filed in October 2014, “There were absolutely no known prior acts by Mr. Farmer that could potentially put Centennial Hills on notice that Mr. Farmer would assault a patient.”
The hospital later repeated that argument in documents filed with the Nevada Supreme Court.
In its motion for reconsideration of Scotti’s sanctions order, the hospital acknowledges that the disclosures “should have been made.”
“However, the non-disclosure was negligent, not willful or intentional. Similarly, Centennial and its counsel have not misled this court; they simply disagree with any assertion that knowledge of suspicious behavior is enough to make it reasonably foreseeable that a contract nurse with a clean background check would sexually assault multiple female patients.”
In its statement on Friday, the hospital argued that Scotti’s order contains “several assumptions about hospital personnel and their actions which are not supported by the facts.”
“Further, there were several key facts and issues of law not available to Judge Scotti when he issued his ruling, and we are confident that when all of the evidence and legal issues are presented to him he will vacate this order. In the event Judge Scotti does not vacate the order, we intend to appeal this matter as necessary to prove that Centennial Hills Hospital did not withhold or hide any evidence.”
Murdock responded with a statement of his own: “Judge Scotti reviewed all of the evidence, heard all of the testimony, read all of the briefs, and even gave Centennial extra time to argue. Judge Scotti took almost two months to prepare his detailed 39 page opinion. Now, after the ruling, Centennial blames the judge for their conduct. At the end of the day, Centennial needs to take responsibility for their numerous failures.”
Farmer was convicted in February 2014 of sexually assaulting two female patients at Centennial in 2008. The panel also found him guilty of indecent exposure and multiple counts of open or gross lewdness for his behavior with three other patients at the hospital that year.
Prosecutors played Doe’s videotaped testimony during the criminal trial. She said the lingering effects of a seizure prevented her from speaking or moving while Farmer used his fingers to sexually assault her.
The other sexual assault victim also sued the hospital, and her case resulted in a confidential settlement in September 2013.
At the time of the assaults, Centennial had a contract with American Nursing Services Inc., which sent Farmer to the hospital to work as a certified nursing assistant. American Nursing Services also is a defendant in Doe’s civil case.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer