Edgewood Vista rape lawsuit settled
The Duluth man who raped an 89-year-old resident of the Edgewood Vista independent living facility in Hermantown, where he worked as a certified nursing assistant, has agreed to a settlement with the victim.
Court records show that 30-year-old Andrew Scott Merzwski agreed last month to a $10 million judgment in a civil lawsuit filed by the victim and her family. But, thanks to a unique agreement with the plaintiffs, he will not be responsible for paying the substantial sum unless he violates one of several agreed-upon terms of the settlement.
Merzwski signed a confession of judgment and stipulation on March 21, agreeing to the facts alleged by the plaintiffs and authorizing the judgment.
The judgment was formally ordered Monday by 6th Judicial District Judge David Johnson.
The agreement requires Merzwski to pay the victim previously court-ordered restitution of $1,063.80, and make a matching donation to the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault. He also cannot be convicted of criminal sexual conduct again, or be convicted or found liable in any claims of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult.
Should Merzwski fully comply with the conditions, the victim and her family will not renew the judgment when it expires in 10 years. She also agreed to drop the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled in the future.
Mark Kosieradzki, the attorney representing the woman, said that type of agreement is almost unheard of in the legal world, but he has used similar agreements in other cases.
“I’ve never heard of anyone other than our firm doing it,” Kosieradzki said Monday evening. “The whole idea is that he’s going to be freed from prison, and the victim and her family felt strongly that they wanted to make a statement and make sure that he doesn’t do this ever again. That was the only purpose of this lawsuit.”
Money was never an objective of the case, but the large monetary figure was chosen because it will loom large over Merzwski’s head for years to come, Kosieradzki said.
“If he assaults another woman, then we can start collecting immediately,” he said. “In addition to spending time in prison, it’s an incentive for him to take a good hard look at what he’s done and how he looks at women, so he doesn’t do it again.”
Duluth attorney Timothy Tripp represented Merzwski in settlement negotiations. He said his client was satisfied with the agreement.
“We negotiated, and I think it’s a fair settlement for both sides,” Tripp said, declining to comment further.
Merzwski confessed in court during his criminal proceedings to drugging and raping the elderly resident on Jan. 18, 2013. He testified that he brought the woman her medications that night, and she invited him in to watch a movie. He acknowledged that he initiated sexual intercourse against her wishes.
Merzwski pleaded guilty to the crime last November and was sentenced in January to serve a 53-month prison sentence and pay restitution to the woman.
The victim and her family filed the civil lawsuit in April 2013, seeking damages in excess of $50,000. Among other allegations, the suit claimed that Edgewood Vista administrators initially did not believe the woman when she reported that she was raped, placed her in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital for nearly three days and later tried to place the blame on the victim.
The woman settled out-of-court with Edgewood Vista and two its top local administrators in February. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The response by Edgewood, which is based in Grand Forks, N.D., and has facilities in seven states, has upset at least some residents of the independent living facility. Residents expressed anger last month about the company’s handling of the incident, saying they were never notified and only read about it in the newspaper.
Edgewood CEO Phil Gisi responded by saying that the company handled the incident properly and remained silent only to protect the victim’s privacy.
A state investigation later found that Edgewood failed to report the incident in a timely manner, but determined that Merzwski, not the facility, was responsible for the rape.
After the incident, the Minnesota Department of Human Services also disqualified Merzwski’s CNA certification. Merzwski will also need to register as a predatory offender for 10 years after he is released from prison.
Kosieradzki said his client and her family are relieved to have the legal proceedings completed and to have sent a message to the community about sexual assault.
“What’s a relief to them is that they’ve made a statement,” he said. “I’m really proud of the victim and her family for standing up for their rights. Things like this make a difference for other people out there.”