Doe v. Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center
Proof of actual or constructive knowledge of propensity is but one way to establish that the criminal misconduct of the third party was foreseeable. For decades, Dr. George Reardon conducted a "child growth study" at the Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, his employer, to recruit and sexually exploit children. Hospital entities approved and funded the study. Tim Doe #1, then eight, and his 10-year-old sister participated in the study. Years after Reardon's death, the owner of his former residence discovered a false wall hiding 50,000 plus slides and 130 films of child pornography, including sexually explicit images of Doe and his sister. Doe brought this action against the hospital alleging negligent supervision and breach of the special duty of care owed to children in its custody. Following trial, the jury found for the plaintiff on both claims, awarding $2,750,000. The hospital appealed from the judgment on the verdict, raising instructional impropriety claims. The majority of the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, rejecting the hospital's claims, including that the jury should have been instructed that it could find the hospital liable only if the plaintiff established that the hospital knew or should have known of Reardon's propensity to sexually abuse children. Generally, a defendant is not responsible for anticipating the intentional misconduct of a third party, unless the defendant knows or has reason to know of the third party's criminal propensity. However, when the harm resulting from the criminal misconduct of a third party is foreseeable under the facts and circumstances presented, there is no reason why the injured party should nevertheless be required to establish that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the third party's criminal propensity. The exception to the general rule that one has no legal obligation to protect another may arise when the defendant's own conduct creates or increases the foreseeable risk that such person will be harmed by the conduct of a third party, including foreseeable criminal conduct. Found in the Restatement (Second) of Torts §302 B and §449, the exception applied to the first count. A second exception, from §315(b), applied to the second count. Under it, one who takes custody of another person may have a duty to protect that person from the intentional misconduct of a third party. Justice Eveleigh dissented.