Jan 25 2013

Lawsuits in Aurora Massacre Begin

Published by at 5:00 pm under Healthcare Reform

One psychiatrist on a physician blog site recently wrote:

“If you’re a shrink and your patient kills someone, be prepared for being sued for your defective clairvoyance….

What we do is this: we help patients who come to us and want to be helped.

We are not some kind of extrajudicial, unconstitutional, coercive agents of social control.

We’re not society’s last, best line of defense against rampage killings.

We don’t have magic Jedi powers to make people do our bidding.”


Here’s what triggered the response.

James Holmes was an ex-University of Colorado student who killed many at a Colorado movie theatre. Dr. Lynne Fenton was James Holmes’s psychiatrist while he was a student at the University. The widow of one of the victims just sued Dr. Fenton and her employer, the University of Colorado. The lawsuit alleged Dr. Fenton knew Holmes “was dangerous” and had a “duty to use reasonable care to protect the public at large” from him.

“Fenton was presented with the opportunity to use such reasonable care when the Colorado University Police offered to apprehend James Holmes on a psychiatric hold,” the lawsuit stated. “Fenton breached her duty to use reasonable care.”

Fenton testified she treated Holmes, 25, more than a month before the shooting and that her professional relationship with him ended weeks before the massacre.

It’s unclear how this will play out. As a state employee and a state institution, the defendants might be shielded by sovereign immunity.

Here is summary of portions of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act:

The maximum amount which may be recovered, whether from one or more public entities and public employees resulting from any single occurrence is $150,000 for injury to one person and $600,000 for two or more injured persons (however, no single person may recover more than $150,000).

This could explain why the movie theatre is also being sued.

The Aurora Theatre shooting was a tragedy. Collateral damage from the James Holmes horrific acts continues.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Lawsuits in Aurora Massacre Begin”

  1. Joe Hortonon 25 Jan 2013 at 5:27 pm

    So, did the theater post a “no handguns allowed” sign? If they did, as far as I’m concerned, they’re culpable, and solely so. If they didn’t, the plaintiffs have the same case against the police as they do against the theater and far more than the doctor caring for him. Future prediction isn’t something most people do well, and psychiatrists don’t ave any corner on that market. At least, not the ones I know. Sounds like the jury–if the case against the physician goes to trial–should be required to watch the movie, Minority Report.

    At what point is it a person’s obligation to defend himself? I know now what others may think about this, but as for me, it’s from square one.

  2. Scott Kasdenon 25 Jan 2013 at 9:10 pm

    An interesting comment.

    To extend the logic of the argument, I would venture that the theater did NOT post a sign prohibiting handguns. Does that matter? I bet they didn’t post signage requiring helmets or flack jackets? Did they prohibit AK’s or AR’s? Any metal detectors?

    I don’t have an answer to this problem, and I haven’t heard anything workable from either side of the gun debate either. That’s why I am so sad and frustrated. Just a shame that Holmes didn’t blow himself up when he booby trapped his home.

  3. Jerry Dagueon 25 Jan 2013 at 10:51 pm

    There was a sign stating no firearms. It does matter as Colorado has a high rate of conceled carry. There was a chance someone would have been there that could have stopped or slowed him down. The way the government statistics show that conceled carry do not deter mass shooting is interesting. If less than 4 are killed it was not a mass shooting, so if the murder kills 3 and is stopped it does not count. Either way it is very sad.
    The saddest point as a doctor is that no one wants to get involved with complicated or serious patients because of the liability. Start with simple tort reform: A laywer can never make more on a case than the “victim.” Otherwise they are victimized twice. This would cut down on frivilous law suits. This will never happen as most politicians are laywers.

  4. Michael M. Rosenblatt, DPMon 26 Jan 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Like everyone else looking objectively at the violence problem, I have no golden answers. I am ambivalent about extreme gun control. On Kristallnacht, when the Germans came after the Jews, they had no weapons with which to defend themselves. We all say this “could never happen in America”, but I assure you that every (Jewish) German felt the same way during the Weimar Republic days.

    All physicians think twice when they contemplate complex patients and cases. This is one of the main reasons why many of them are referred to regional medical centers, which have less choice to cherry-pick cases. Regional medical centers often have lawyers on retainer in a format that is out-of-affordability for smaller groups or individual doctors.

    I’ve often felt that some kind of government subsidy should be granted physicians’ malpractice insurance who take on complex and yes, thankless cases. They are the ones’ with their malpractice heads on the chopping block.

    Mental health issues are exceedingly complex; and we don’t really have laws to help deal with potentially violent individuals due to their civil rights. Repealing their civil rights is unconstitutional, and even if it were not, there would always be a price to pay for bending personal freedoms.

    The short answer is that there is no answer. The best we could do is have selected boards of professional and lay-people review people who are “potentially violent” and try to offer them some kind of help, which most likely they would refuse. They would have to volunteer for start, because nobody has a perfect track record in identifying them. Once you volunteer to be helped, you are forever branded “dangerous,” which would make it impossible to get a job.

    Count me as confused as everyone else.

    Michael M. Rosenblatt, DPM

  5. Royon 28 Jan 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Crystal balls. Who has em?