Maryland Hospitals to Overhaul Sexual Abuse Protections

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Disability Rights Maryland and Venable have reached a settlement with the State of Maryland to completely overhaul sexual abuse protections in all state-run hospitals and treatment facilities across Maryland, according to a news release.

Under the settlement, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) will institute a comprehensive set of reforms with uniform protections against sexual assaults for all patients in state-run facilities.

Two years ago, DHMH was sued by Jane Doe, an individual who, while in the custody and care of two separate DHMH facilities, was sexually assaulted twice, by two different patients, resulting in severe trauma and emotional injuries. Her suit alleges that, despite knowledge of Ms. Doe’s mental impairments, past instances of sexual victimization, and the risks of the patient population, hospital staff failed to provide Ms. Doe with adequate supervision and then failed to provide her with proper aid and treatment following the assaults. On behalf of Ms. Doe, Venable and Disability Rights Maryland filed suit alleging that the state negligently failed to protect her and violated her Constitutional rights. The suit, Doe v. DHMH, et al., is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

Following 20 months of negotiations, the State has agreed to award Ms. Doe the maximum damages recovery allowed under the State Tort Claims Act. In addition, DHMH has agreed to valuable service commitments that will continue and be available to Ms. Doe as long as she needs them. Finally, DHMH agreed to institute the following reforms at all of its facilities:

  • Universal safety precautions to protect incoming patients from sexual abuse and other harm while their status and needs are assessed;
  • Use of unique risk assessment screen forms, developed jointly by Ms. Doe’s counsel and DHMH, identifying a patient’s past trauma and risks as well as concerns about safety;
  • Creation of personal protection plans to reduce any identified risk of sexual abuse including treatment options and safety measures at the facility;
  • Treatment plans for patients to incorporate the results of the risk assessment screen and the protection plan;
  • Uniform policy for the collection of past medical and treatment records;
  • Mandatory external reporting to law enforcement of all allegations of sexual abuse and assault at DHMH facilities;
  • Extensive reforms of the procedures for investigating allegations of sexual abuse in DHMH facilities including use of sexual assault response teams where possible;
  • Any use of restraints on victims transported for forensic sexual assault exams will be reviewed for appropriateness and necessity; and
  • Central coordinators will oversee training of staff and implementation by DHMH.

Disability Rights Maryland director of litigation Lauren Youngand Venable attorneys Mitchell Y. Mirviss, Stephen E. Marshall, Michael L. Hecht, Kevin Cross, and Carl F. Ehrhardt represent Ms. Doe. Venable represents her on a pro bono basis.

In addition, another attorney, Sarah Rhine, serves as the volunteer “next friend” for Ms. Doe to help make decisions in her best interest. Ms. Rhine jointly approved the settlement along with Ms. Doe. As Ms. Rhine explains, “Ms. Doe is a kind young woman who was clearly vulnerable to abuse but has shown incredible strength. The fact that she entered our health system in need of treatment and was victimized in such a violent manner was a failure of massive proportion.”

Venable LLP is an American Lawyer Global 100 law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Virginia. The firm has more than 600 attorneys who serve domestic and international clients in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property, regulatory matters, and government affairs.  For more information, visit

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to Maryland residents with disabilities of all ages.  We advocate for the legal, civil, and human rights of people with all types of disabilities and provide technical assistance on disability rights issues to an array of stakeholders. DRM was formerly known as Maryland Disability Law Center.

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