State Immune from Liability for Mental Patient’s Sexual Assault of Another Patient

A patient involuntarily committed to a county mental hospital was sexually assaulted in her room at night by a fellow patient. She sued the hospital and several employees for negligence. A California statute grants immunity to public entities for injuries to or caused by mental institution patients.


The plaintiff claimed the hospital was liable under an exception to the immunity statute for injuries caused by a public employee’s negligent or wrongful acts or omissions. The perpetrator was able to access the plaintiff’s room because the lock on her door had a faulty latching mechanism. She alleged that had the hospital not negligently failed to inspect and fix her door latch, the assault would not have occurred.


However, no statute requires locks on patient rooms in county psychiatric hospitals, and in fact evidence was presented that most mental hospitals require patient rooms to remain unlocked. Therefore, the hospital’s failure to inspect or fix the lock was insufficient to invoke the exception to immunity. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants. On appeal, the judgment was affirmed.


See: Johnson v. Alameda County Medical Center, 205 Cal.App.4th 521 (Cal.App. 1 Dist. Apr 16, 2012) (not designated for publication).