Massachusetts Appeals Court Clarifies ‘Reasonably Foreseeable’ Element in Negligence Claim Against Hospital

Although most people are familiar with the concept of a hospital being held liable for medical malpractice, few are also aware that hospitals can also be held liable for a broader scope of injuries. In the recent case of Doe v. Boston Medical Center Corporation, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts was faced with the issue of whether or not it was reasonably foreseeable that a Spanish interpreter called to the hospital to help doctors communicate with an admitted patient would sexually assault patients.

The facts of the case are as follows. In 2008, the plaintiff, an immigrant who spoke Spanish, was admitted to the defendant’s hospital for the delivery of her first child. Since the plaintiff did not speak English, the hospital sought the help of an interpreter so that the doctors could communicate with the patient and vice versa. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that, during the time she was admitted, a Spanish interpreter whom the hospital hired entered her room, lifted her gown, and touched her vagina and abdomen. The complaint also contended that another patient reported being sexually assaulted at some point that day as well. The interpreter was fired after the incident.

The plaintiff’s complaint sought compensation from the hospital, alleging that the hospital was negligent in supervising the interpreter. In response to the complaint, the hospital filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that it was not reasonably foreseeable to the hospital that the interpreter would commit sexual assault against the plaintiff. The hospital also noted that the interpreter did not have a prior criminal record. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts reversed the lower court’s ruling, framing the issue in the case as not whether the assault in question was foreseeable based on the fact that he lacked a criminal record, but instead whether the assault was foreseeable, given that the door to the patient’s room was unlocked and unattended and that the patient was alone and minimally clothed inside the room. Additionally, the court noted that the hospital’s standing policy of permitting interpreters to be alone with patients in hospital rooms indicated that the sexual assault and subsequent harm was foreseeable.

The court also concluded that whether or not the hospital fulfilled its duty of care to the plaintiff was a question of fact for the jury to determine, and it remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury due to the negligence of a hospital, care facility, or medical professional, you may be entitled to compensation. Hospitals owe their patients a duty of care outside of the medical malpractice context, and they can potentially be held liable for damages if they fail to meet this duty of care. At The Law Offices of John S. Moffa, our skilled personal injury lawyers have represented many victims throughout Massachusetts and know firsthand how difficult this time can be for you and your family. We offer a free consultation to help you figure out your options and rights, so you have nothing to lose. Call us now at 1-866-476-0828 or contact us online to set up your appointment today.

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