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John Simon: Jury renders $535 million judgment against The Pavilion in 2020 rape of patient

Jury renders $535 million judgment against The Pavilion in 2020 rape of patient


Mar 29, 2024

URBANA — A Champaign County jury determined Thursday that The Pavilion Behavioral Health System, a local psychiatric facility, was negligent in the 2020 rape of a 13-year-old patient by another patient and must pay the victim $535 million in total damages.

Jurors deliberated for about six-and-a-half hours before siding in favor of the plaintiff, the young girl’s mother, ending the seven-day civil trial before Champaign County Judge Jason Bohm that saw testimony from 19 different witnesses.

“The jury took its responsibility seriously, and we are glad that the jury heard her,” Tim Cronin, an attorney representing the plaintiff and her daughter, said after the verdict. “We hope this leads to a culture change in mental-health facilities to make sure that these vulnerable children are protected.”

Cronin and other attorneys from the St. Louis-based Simon Law Firm argued that The Pavilion was negligent in four main ways: It failed to safely house patients, provide adequate staffing or properly monitor its adolescent floor or the surveillance cameras in the unit.

The jury had to agree that one or more of those four accusations was true in order to rule that the Champaign residential treatment center, through its employees, had failed to do something that a reasonably careful person would do, and therefore that negligence was the proximate cause of the then-13-year-old’s rape.

Jurors rejected a separate charge that accused The Pavilion of fraud. Attorneys for the plaintiff alleged that a Pavilion employee told the girl’s mother ahead of the teen’s admission to the facility’s youth unit that male and female patients were not housed together.

Evidence presented in the trial showed that the 13-year-old girl was admitted to the adolescent floor of the Champaign residential treatment center on Nov. 30, 2020 after having been hospitalized twice before at a different behavioral inpatient unit.

A 16-year-old boy was admitted to the facility on Dec. 4 after he was hospitalized for escaping from the second-story window of a group home in Chicago. He was placed in a room next to the 13-year-old girl.

Starting around 10 p.m. Dec. 5, surveillance cameras in the unit captured the 16-year-old and another teenage patient rubbing toothpaste onto the lenses of three different cameras, partially obscuring the cameras’ view of the halls.

The boys later spilled water on the floor, and at 11:10 p.m., while a mental-health technician briefly turned to retrieve a towel, they signaled to the 13-year-old girl to enter the 16-year-old’s room. The 16-year-old then entered the room and raped her.

The girl walked out of the boy’s room around eight minutes later. She disclosed to a nurse on Dec. 7 that she had been raped. The 16-year-old was killed in a 2022 shooting in St. Louis, Cronin said.

In closing arguments Thursday, Cronin highlighted how former Pavilion employees testified they thought the adolescent floor was understaffed and difficult to monitor.

Two employees on the unit that night noticed something obscuring the view of the cameras, but the cameras were not cleaned or investigated until the following morning. Pavilion administrators previously discussed but rejected creating a policy that required cameras to be watched in real-time.

Expert witnesses retained by plaintiff attorneys were critical of the facility allowing male and female patients between ages 4 and 17 to all be housed on the same floor, as well as the decision to place the 16-year-old in a room next to the 13-year-old.

The boy’s medical records, which The Pavilion had access to during his intake, noted a history of aggressive behavior and that he “requires close observation as this has been a pattern of intensifying, impulsive behaviors.”

In his closing argument, Mike Prangle, an attorney with the Chicago-based Hall Prangle and Schoonveld law firm defending The Pavilion, said the 16-year-old was the sole person responsible for the rape of the 13-year-old. Prangle isolated the circumstances leading to the rape to the 19-minute window in which the boy worked with his accomplice to distract a Pavilion employee.

Prangle emphasized that none of the employees working the adolescent floor on the night of the rape testified that they thought the unit was understaffed, and a physician evaluated the 16-year-old’s medical history during his intake but did not find it necessary to put the boy on sexual-acting-out precautions or one-to-one supervision.

Prangle said the policy to house male and female patients together is a therapeutically beneficial industry standard and the two were roomed next to each other to be closest to the unit’s nursing station.

Many disputes in the trial hinged over the two parties’ differing views on what it means to “continuously” monitor a hallway.

Attorneys for the plaintiff highlighted that Pavilion policies mandate continuous monitoring of halls, and argued that standard must not have held on Dec. 5 — otherwise an employee would have seen the cameras get tampered with or the 13-year-old enter the boy’s room.

Attorneys defending The Pavilion argued that staff “essentially” provided continuous monitoring through their every-15-minutes rounds. Expert witnesses retained by the defense testified that it is better to monitor patients in person, in the hallways, rather than through camera feeds.

Another major dispute was whether the symptoms the victim is currently suffering from can be attributed to the pre-existing mental illnesses she had before entering The Pavilion.

A psychiatrist retained by attorneys for the girl's mother diagnosed the girl with post-traumatic stress disorder, and her mother testified that her daughter is now “scared of the world.” When the girl took the stand, she broke down and had to take a break before resuming testimony.

A psychiatrist retained by attorneys for The Pavilion disagreed with the PTSD diagnoses. The doctor's evaluation of the victim led him to believe that the girl has shown progress and is coping better now than she ever was before her hospitalizations.

In his closing remarks, Cronin argued that The Pavilion’s inadequate staffing policies were motivated by financial greed and he asked the jury to send a strong message to the health care industry. An attorney for The Pavilion asked for a mistrial, partly because of Cronin’s allusions to parties outside the case, but Judge Bohm denied the motion.

Cronin recommended the jury require The Pavilion to pay $575 million in total damages — $75 million in compensatory damages to the victim and $500 million for punitive deterrence.

Prangle argued that the facility was not negligent for the 13-year-old’s rape, but if the jury found it was liable, then $1 million in total damages would be appropriate.

The jury arrived at a sum of $60 million in compensatory damages — $20 million for the girl's “loss of normal life” and $40 million for her “pain and suffering.” It determined that $475 million was appropriate in punitive damages, bringing the total sum to $535 million.


Jury renders $535 million judgment against The Pavilion in 2020 rape of patient | Courts-police-fire |


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