The sister of a mentally ill woman raped by another patient
at San Mateo County General Hospital has filed a lawsuit
against the hospital and San Mateo County, alleging
negligence, medical malpractice and the dangerous condition of
The victim, who now resides at Napa State Hospital, was
raped Oct. 28, 2001, while she was in the hospital’s inpatient
psychiatric ward, according to San Mateo County Superior Court
records. The man who assaulted her has a history of mental
illness, violence and criminal behavior.
The lawsuit alleges that the hospital and the county,
namely the San Mateo County Department of Mental Health
Services, San Mateo County Health Services Agency along with
Pinkerton Government Services failed to prevent James Imbrogno
from sneaking into the victim’s room and raping the woman.
Imbrogno and his mother, Rita, who serves as his conservator,
are also named as defendants in the suit. Pinkerton provides
security for the hospital.
As a result of the rape, which was interrupted by a passing
nurse, the 57-year-old victim, who suffers from bipolar
disorder and other illnesses, believes she is repeatedly raped
on a regular basis, said her attorney, Daniel Hager. She also
distrusts the male orderlies she must come in contact with
daily. Her physical health also deteriorated, but she was not
properly treated until a week later, the lawsuit alleges.
“Part of the real tragedy of this thing is that she is an
extra vulnerable person to begin with because of her mental
disability,” Hager said, adding that someone in her situation
has greater difficulty in managing the already stressful
circumstances of rape.
A governmental claim against the county has already been
filed and rejected, Hager said. The lawsuit seeks monetary and
The woman had also been admitted for pneumonia and could
not defend herself nor could she speak, Hager said. She
received no therapy for the sexual assault and was under
restraint after being moved to an intensive care unit that was
not equipped to handle the mentally ill, the lawsuit alleges.
Although she had been at San Mateo County General Hospital
for about a month, the woman had been a patient there before
and had been in out and out of residential care facilities in
San Mateo County for most of her adult life, Hager said.
Under conservatorship since 1981, Imbrogno was arrested in
San Mateo County for stabbing a county worker with a knife and
then attempting to stab the same worker with a pitch fork,
according to court documents. Imbrogno was charged but not
tried for the crimes because he was deemed mentally unfit to
stand trial, the lawsuit alleges. Charges were brought against
Imbrogno in the rape case, but were also dropped because of
his mental condition. He is believed to be a Vietnam veteran
in his 50s, Hager said.
As a patient at Atascadero State Hospital, where he was in
the maximum security unit, Imbrogno showed regular patterns of
assaultive behavior and, according to court documents, “he
needs almost constant supervision to ensure that he does not
injure himself or injure another patient.”
The lawsuit alleges that hospital staff knew of this
information, but placed him in a co-ed psychiatric ward
nonetheless. The ward has as many as 28 patients at a time and
no security guards, said Roxanne Kennedy, a nursing supervisor
at the hospital.
“Someone with his kind of background with a history of
being assaultive of other patients, shouldn’t be put in a
co-ed unit,” Hager said.
San Mateo County counsel had no comment on the case as the
county has not been issued summons yet. A case management date
has been set for March 6, 2003.