Lawsuit claims assisted living failed to protect resident with Down syndrome from sex assault

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 12:00 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:44 PM CST
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A lawsuit has been filed alleging a woman with Down syndrome was sexually assaulted at a De Pere assisted living facility and the company failed to protect her from the assault.

The lawsuit filed by “Jane Doe” through her guardian Carol Smith names Assisted Living by Hillcrest LLC and West Bend Mutual Insurance as defendants.

Lakeland Care Inc. is named as an involuntary plaintiff. It says it has provided benefits to the plaintiff and is entitled to reimbursement if she were to recover money from the defendants.

The lawsuit claims Doe, 57, a former resident at Caraton Commons, was sexually assaulted by a male resident on April 10, 2021. In addition to Down syndrome, Doe has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

An employee entered Doe’s room and saw the assailant touching Doe and Doe was crying, according to court documents obtained by Action 2 News. The employee reported the sexual assault to an on-call nurse, who is said to have reported it to a Hillcrest administrator.

The suit alleges staff “were directed to clean Ms. Doe up and lock her in room.” Four days later, Doe’s sister, Carol Smith, found out what happened and had Doe examined by an outside health care provider. A forensic sexual assault examination found physical injuries from the assault, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff says Hillcrest did not report the sexual assault to law enforcement, adult protective services or another authority.

The lawsuit claims the assailant was known by Hillcrest to have “engaged in a disturbing and continuous pattern of inappropriate sexual behaviors toward other residents and otherwise acting out sexually” and alleges Caraton “did not take any meaningful steps to monitor and control [his] dangerous behavior.”

The suit states that Hillcrest knew the man had sexually assaulted another resident and moved him into Ms. Doe’s building.

The lawsuit states Hillcrest failed to warn Ms. Doe and her sister, Mrs. Smith, about the man’s previous behavior.

“Ms. Doe is cognitively disabled and in frail physical health. She is physically unable to protect herself from an assault, sexual or otherwise, and is not verbally able to call for help. Ms. Doe’s cognitive and physical disabilities were known to Hillcrest while she was a resident there,” reads the lawsuit.

Smith decided Doe could not return to Caraton Commons and moved her to a skilled nursing facility. The suit states Doe continues to suffer from physical, mental and emotional injury from the assault.

Action 2 News reached out to Hillcrest for a statement. The company says Assisted Living By Hillcrest has “fully cooperated” with the state’s review of the allegations regarding the sexual assault.

“Assisted Living By Hillcrest LLC (ALBH) takes any allegations regarding residents’ care very seriously. With regard to this alleged incident in April, 2021, ALBH notified the State regarding these allegations and fully cooperated with its review. While ALBH was only recently served with the civil complaint filed by attorney Lester Pines, it has tendered the defense to its insurance company, and is awaiting their handling of the case. ALBH is committed to providing a safe and caring environment for its residents, and will respond to all allegations through the appropriate channels,” reads the statement.

The lawsuit filed by Doe and Smith demands a judgment for compensatory damages, punitive damages, medical and other out-of-pocket costs and fees, statutory costs and fees. The plaintiff asks for a trial by jury.

Online court records show no scheduled court activity.

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