Behavioral Health Organization Devereux Faces Mounting Litigation Over Allegations of Resident Abuse

Attorneys involved in the Devereux litigation said there are cases pending in state courts across the United States, though federal cases appear to be concentrated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the organization is headquartered.

Lawsuits are piling up against the Devereux Foundation, a behavioral health organization, over reported abuse throughout its facilities, with scores of suits filed across state and federal courts.

In Philadelphia alone, over 50 cases were consolidated last week for discovery purposes, and earlier in April a proposed class action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania survived a motion to dismiss.

Attorneys involved in the Devereux litigation said there are cases pending in state courts across the United States, though federal cases appear to be concentrated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the organization is headquartered.

According to Annika K. Martin, a New York-based partner in Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, who represents plaintiffs in the proposed class action, past and current residents of Devereux facilities have been filing individual suits against the organization across various state courts seeking damages on allegations that it negligently allowed for abuse to occur. She said some cases have resolved in settlements and pointed to a recent win in Georgia, where a jury issued a $50 million putative verdict.

Martin said that to her knowledge, the class action, on which Lieff Cabraser is co-counsel with Sauder Schelkopf, is the only class action so far to arise against Devereux. She said that, while most suits against the organization seek damages for specific instances of past abuse, the class action is more targeted toward systemic issues and aims to create future, institutional changes to how the organization operates.

The proposed class would include all residents of Devereux’s facilities, including those who do not claim to have experienced abuse.

“The theory is that Deveruex has put all of these individuals at a heightened risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse because of the … inadequate policy enforcement that Devereux has from the top,” said Martin.

According to Martin, the exact number of residents is something that must be determined through discovery, though the complaint said the organization is responsible for approximately 25,000 individuals across 21 facilities in 13 states.

The same legal team is representing 13 former patients from across Arizona, Vermont, Maine, New York, Florida, Colorado and California who seek to hold the organization liable for physical and sexual abuse they say claim they suffered at the hands of Devereux staff.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, litigation against Devereux is moving forward with discovery. As of Wednesday, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas docket system listed 56 related cases filed against the organization.

Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky’s Andrew Duffy, who said his firm is handling 27 related cases, said the court is currently in the process of appointing a discovery master to help expedite the resolution of a number of disputes that have arisen.

The cases were consolidated for the discovery and pre-trial purposes April 27, but Duffy said they remain separate beyond that.

Each individual survivor has a different horror story, factually,” Duffy said, but he added that “the legal claims are very similar: they seek recovery for just a long term systemic sexual abuse pattern.”

Those claims include counts of negligence, assault and battery, negligent hiring and retention, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Duffy said he is unsure when the first suits against Devereux began, but both he and Martin credit an August 2020 story from the Philadelphia Inquirer as a key moment in the litigation.

The Inquirer report found that “at least 41 children as young as 12, and with IQs as low as 50, have been raped or sexually assaulted by Devereux staff members in the last 25 years,” and later reporting found further instances of abuse and cover-ups.

Martin called the article “a real watershed moment,” and said that often stories on sexual assault prompt survivors to come forward and seek legal recourse for the abuse they suffered.

Martin said that individuals who say they were victims of abuse at Devereux continue to come forward and that past and current residents will likely continue to do so for years to come.

“You can’t put a timeline on how people process that information and are ready or not ready to come forward and hold Deversux accountable,” she said.

Joseph McHale of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young confirmed that his firm is counsel for Devereux in the abuse litigation but declined to provide further comment.

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