Casper Couple Loses Federal Lawsuit Against Community Health Centers
A Casper couple on Thursday lost their $2.5 million lawsuit against the federal government claiming the federally funded Community Health Centers of Wyoming was negligent in hiring and supervising a doctor who allegedly sexually assaulted her.
Tosha and Josh Blackburn claimed Paul Harnetty's actions caused physical, mental, emotional and other injuries, and loss of consortium and income.
"As a result of her assault, Ms.Blackburn required hospitalization, medication, EMDR, and extensive therapy and counseling to treat the physical, mental and emotional injuries inflicted by CHCCW, Nurse [Priscilla] Martinez, and Dr. Harnetty, and has incurred substantial costs for these treatments," according to the lawsuit filed in June by her attorney Jeremy Hugus of Casper.
K2 Radio news normally does not name victims of sexual assault, but Blackburn agreed to be named.
She said in a text message to K2 Radio news that she didn't sue for the attention but rather to hold people accountable. "In my opinion this is disgusting that criminal acts can be committed at federally funded [facilities] and can not be held liable."
Harnetty was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault in January 2018, and was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison, but he was not convicted of assaulting Blackburn.
Earlier this year, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
The Blackburns' lawsuit was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which makes the United States liable for all negligent acts or failures to act committed by the Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming.
The Community Health Centers responded, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin agreed, that the United States is immune from liability because it was not responsible for Harnetty's conduct.
Rankin wrote that the FTCA has an "intentional tort exception," which bars claims that arise from intentional wrongful acts including assault and battery.
"All eight of Plaintiffs' claims arise out of the intentional sexual assault and battery committed by Dr. Harnetty," Rankin wrote. "Accordingly the United States has not consented to suit and this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the claims."
Rankin was sympathetic to the Blackburns' plight, he wrote. "But it would be unjust to hold the United States liable for Dr. Harnetty's conduct considering the intentional tort exception the the FTCA and the United States' 'lack of moral, legal or factual connection' to the assault and better that occurred here."