(CN) - Six women who claimed that a paramedic sexually abused them while they were vulnerable can bring their cases to trial, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled.
American Medical Response Northwest faced five separate lawsuits in Multnomah County Circuit Court over its former emergency medical technician and paramedic, Lannie Haszard.
After pleading guilty in 2008 to multiple counts of first-degree sexual abuse, with regard to his treatment of various female patients in ambulance trips, Haszard was sentenced to five years in prison.
The women who sued, led by the now-deceased Dianne Terpenning, claimed that Haszard had touched them inappropriately when they were too ill, injured or elderly to defend themselves.
Though none had reported her allegations to AMRN before filing suit, the company had allegedly received reports from two other women that Haszard had abused them.
They plaintiffs noted that one woman told the company in 2006 that she woke up in the ambulance to find Haszard rubbing her hand against his crotch. This woman's screams allegedly led Haszard to tell the driver that she was just delirious.
The other woman said Haszard was leering at her and panting while she changed into her hospital gown, according to the complaints. She allegedly called the experience "highly degrading and uncomfortable."
American Medical argued that the plaintiffs' did not have a case because it did not "permit" the physical abuse of the patients, according to state law.
Though the trial court agreed that the plaintiffs did not prove "intentional conduct" on the part of the employer, a three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed on Dec. 31.
"We conclude that the legislature most likely intended that 'permitting' abuse requires that the defendant have knowledge of the facts establishing that it knew of the substantial risk of the abuse actually suffered by the plaintiff," Judge Lynn Nakamoto wrote for the court.
American Medical also failed to sway the court that the abuse statutes were not aimed at corporations.
"Before any abuse of any of the plaintiffs, defendant knew that Haszard had a history of being accused of the same kind of abuse, by precisely the same category of victim," Nakamoto wrote, crediting the allegations for the purposes of the appeal.
The patients also sufficiently alleged a failure by American Medical to take action after receiving alleged complaints about Haszard, "apparently on the basis that Haszard himself had told defendant that he had not abused anyone."
Last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Royshekka Herring was entitled to a $2.1 million judgment based on Haszard's actions.
That ruling noted a stipulation by American Medical Response to the fact Haszard had been sexually inappropriate with 18 of the 108 women he had transported.
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