Utah Supreme Court sends child sex abuse case back to Logan, Utah district court for jury trial

The Utah Supreme Court issued its opinion in Graves v. North Eastern Services, Inc. (Case No. 20122012) on January 30, 2015, upholding the trial court’s determinations that: 1) Defendant North Eastern Services, Inc. (NES) owed a duty of care to a minor child who was sexually abused by an NES employee in a group home for disabled persons managed by NES in Logan, Utah; and 2) the plaintiffs did not have to designate an expert witness to testify at trial as to NES’s standard of care in operating the group home. The Supreme Court also held that, at trial, the jury must apportion “fault” between NES and its former employee, Matthew Cooper, who is currently serving a long prison sentence for criminal child sexual abuse of the minor child plaintiff in this case. The Supreme Court sent the Graves case back to the First District Court in Logan for trial. Peck Hadfield partner Shaun L Peck reprepresented the minor child victim and her parents on appeal and will represent them at the forthcoming jury trial.

As set forth in the Supreme Court’s opinion, this case arose at a group home operated by NES in a residential neighborhood where children were encouraged to interact with the disabled residents of the group home “on the rationale that such interactions may be beneficial to the residents.” On a summer day in 2008, NES employee Matthew Cooper invited the minor child into the group home to watch TV after she asked for some candy. Once inside, the minor child was taken to a bathroom where she was sexually assaulted by Cooper, who was under the supervision of another NES employee who testified that she had a “bad feeling” when she watched Cooper lead the minor child to the bathroom.

The minor child victim and her parents have sued NES for negligent hiring, training and supervision of Cooper, who was hired by NES after having been terminated from a previous job because of “sexually abusive conduct.” This case was originally set for a trial beginning December 3, 2012, but that trial was postponed when the Utah Court of Appeals granted certiorari to NES on the last business day before the scheduled trial. On March 10, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its Remittitur remanding this case back to the First District Court in Logan for trial.

Update: On October 2, 2015, a Cache County jury returned a verdict finding the minor child victim of the sexual abuse is entitled to $12.5 million in damages.

Michael Jewell