(CN) - A woman who was sexually abused by the ambulance paramedic taking her to the hospital is entitled to a $2.1 million judgment, an Oregon appeals court ruled.
Royshekka Herring woke one morning suffering from pain, bleeding and nausea, and she fainted when she tried to get out of bed. Her son called 911.
An ambulance operated by American Medical Reponse Northwest arrived on the scene with two paramedics, and they transported her to Legacy Emanuel Hospital.
Once there, Herring told a nurse that the paramedic who was not driving, Lannie Haszard, touched her sexually three times during the 15-minute trip. One of the instances allegedly took place while Herring could not see, talk or move.
The nurse called the ambulance operator, reaching an operator who later testified that he was "dumbfounded" because of the similarity between Herring's report and that of another female patient Haszard treated. Police arrested the paramedic and ultimately identified at least two other similar incidents of sexual abuse by Haszard. The Oregonian reported that Haszard got five years for that crime in 2008 and then given another three years in 2011 for three other incidents of inappropriate touching. The sentences were to run concurrently, leaving him with another 30 months to serve at this stage.
Herring meanwhile sued Haszard, American Medical Response and its Northwest subsidiary for battery and negligence. The trial court found that she deserved noneconomic damages, and then tripled the award to $1.5 million because she was a "vulnerable person." She also received $600,000 in attorneys' fees.
On appeal, the ambulance operator argued that Herring was not incapacitated for long and therefore did not qualify as a "vulnerable person" under the statute, making the amount of damages excessive.
The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed on Feb 21, saying that the law "plainly establishes that a person is incapacitated if, while being abused, her self-protecting ability is significantly impaired."
"Nothing in the text requires the duration of that impairment to exceed the period during which the abuse occurs," Judge David Schuman wrote for a three-member panel.
Treble damages are also appropriate, according to the ruling.
"The subject matter of the statute - the physical or financial abuse of vulnerable persons - suggests that the legislature properly concluded that the violations were per se sufficiently egregious to justify the enhanced award," Schuman wrote.
American Medical Response stipulated to the fact Haszard had been sexually inappropriate with 18 of the 108 women he had transported.
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