Court: Insurer must defend nursing home against rape allegation

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled a medical malpractice insurer has a duty to defend a nursing home against claims an employee raped a resident.

A complaint filed by the resident's estate alleges an employee of Charlesgate Nursing Center in Providence, RI, sexually assaulted the resident in June 2009. The complaint accuses Charlesgate of negligence in failing to properly supervise, screen and train its employees, as well as failing to provide adequate security, failing to report the assault and failing to discipline employees following the incident. The resident's estate claims the resident's calls for help could be heard from the nurses station, but no employees went to investigate.

The Medical Malpractice Joint Underwriting Association of Rhode Island, which issued a general liability policy to Charlesgate, claimed the alleged rape didn't count as an “occurrence” under the policy, therefore removing MMJUA from having to defend the facility in the lawsuit.

The policy defined “occurrence” as “an accident,” or something that was neither expected nor intended. The court sided with Charlesgate's viewpoint that the assault wasn't expected or intended.

“It was surely not the usual course of events when an employee, whom Charlesgate hired, supervised and trained, was later alleged to have sexually assaulted one of its patients,” the court said.

The court also noted that previous cases where insurance providers tried to avoid defending in sexual assault lawsuits involved claims against individual employees, rather than the facility-wide negligence allegations facing Charlesgate.