Many of us have experienced a nightmare of being paralyzed, immobilized, and mistreated — from mere teasing and threats to, in the worst instances, pursuit, abuse, or torture. The combination of powerlessness, apprehension and pain is horrifying. Consider Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Some researchers suggest that such dreams might be caused by a subliminal awareness, in our somnolent brains, that we cannot move. Our sleeping bodies are, in effect, paralyzed. Luckily, for most of us, the ghastly familiarity of these fleeting terrors gives way to a flood of relief when we wake up, orient ourselves in our cozy beds, shudder, and sink comfortably back into some other dreamworld.
Michael Sorenson lived the nightmare. He will not wake up from it.
Having suffered a traumatic brain injury during a motorcycle accident, unable to care for himself, confined to a wheelchair in a residential adult foster care facility, Mr. Sorenson found himself placed with a mentally ill woman (“M.R.”) with a history of physical aggression. In May and early June, 2013, M.R.’s several brutal physical attacks on Mr. Sorenson culminated in her dumping a pot of boiling water on Mr. Sorenson, resulting in terrible burns over 35% of his body.
To my mind, the strongest factor in Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Robiner’s grant of Mr. Sorenson’s motion to amend his complaint to add a punitive damages claim against the defendant, Options Residential, Inc., is that, after M.R.’s late May attacks on Mr. Sorenson, an Options staff member resigned because he “knew there was going to be some confrontation between M.R. and [Sorenson] sooner or later” and he didn’t want to be there when it occurred. The staff member testified that he had raised his concern with two higher levels of supervisors and nothing was done.
For more detail on the factual basis for Plaintiff’s punitive damages motion, see here.
For the court’s legal analysis of why Options is not entitled to immunity from liability under the immunity related to civil commitment, see here.
Plaintiff’s counsel, Don McNeil had this to say in an email on my inquiry about the case: “This case is much bigger [than the claims just of Plaintiff Sorenson] because it involves how we care for the disabled and mentally ill. This incident should never have happened.”