Pa. court takes up doc­tor li­a­bil­ity in psy­chi­atric clinic shoot­ing

The Morning Call - - STATE/REGION - By The As­so­ci­ated Press

Penn­syl­va­nia’s high­est court will de­ter­mine if a woman shot seven years ago in the psy­chi­atric clinic where she worked can sue the Univer­sity of Pittsburgh over the as­sailant’s treat­ment be­fore the at­tack.

The Supreme Court an­nounced Tues­day it will de­cide whether a for­mer Al­legheny County judge made the right de­ci­sion to dis­miss the law­suit by Kathryn Leight and her hus­band against the school and a physi­cians’ group.

The law­suit con­cerns in­juries suf­fered by Leight, a re­cep­tion­ist, dur­ing the March 2012 ram­page in­side Western Psy­chi­atric In­sti­tute and Clinic in Pittsburgh by chem­istry grad­u­ate stu­dent John Shick. Shick had been di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia.

Shick, 30, killed one clinic em­ployee, wounded Leight and in­jured sev­eral oth­ers be­fore he was shot and killed. Leight suf­fered se­vere in­juries to her chest and ab­domen.

The jus­tices will de­cide if doc­tors can be sued over a shoot­ing in­ci­dent af­ter tak­ing steps to have a pa­tient com­mit­ted in­vol­un­tar­ily but not com­plet­ing the process.

Mes­sages seek­ing com­ment from the univer­sity and from the lawyer for the Leights were not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

In De­cem­ber, the Su­pe­rior Court up­held the dis­missal of the Leights’ law­suit against Univer­sity of Pittsburgh Physi­cians and the univer­sity un­der the Men­tal Health Pro­ce­dures Act, say­ing the law does not ap­ply to vol­un­tary out­pa­tient treat­ment, which is what Shick re­ceived.

“While we sym­pa­thize with the Leights’ ar­gu­ment, this court can­not con­clude that the mere thought or con­sid­er­a­tion of ini­ti­at­ing an in­vol­un­tary ex­am­i­na­tion dur­ing vol­un­tary out­pa­tient treat­ment falls within the ex­plicit scope” of the men­tal health treat­ment law, the Su­pe­rior Court ruled.

Shick had en­rolled as a doc­toral stu­dent in bi­o­log­i­cal sciences at Duquesne Univer­sity less than a year be­fore the at­tack but left that pro­gram af­ter mul­ti­ple com­plaints about un­wanted and un­ac­cept­able con­tacts with women.

The Su­pe­rior Court opin­ion doc­u­ments a long list of con­tacts he had with doc­tors in the months be­fore the shoot­ing about a range of com­plaints that in­cluded de­pres­sion, neck and an­kle pain, vom­it­ing and headaches.

To­ward the end of 2011, Shick told a psy­chi­a­trist he had never had psy­chi­atric treat­ment, but his mother in­formed the doc­tor he had been ad­mit­ted for psy­chi­atric care five times.

In late Jan­uary 2012, less than two months be­fore the shoot­ing, a doc­tor de­scribed Shick as “floridly psy­chotic.” On Feb. 10, he showed up at a doc­tor’s of­fice to have blood drawn and banged a base­ball bat on the counter, wav­ing it in what was de­scribed as a threat­en­ing man­ner.

Doc­tors talked in Fe­bru­ary about seek­ing a com­mit­ment petition, but that did not oc­cur.

On March 7, the day be­fore the at­tack, Shick re­ceived emer­gency care at his home for com­plaints about vom­it­ing blood and eye par­a­sites. He was taken to UPMC Pres­by­te­rian Hos­pi­tal’s emer­gency room, where he de­manded pain med­i­ca­tion, re­fused to dis­cuss his med­i­ca­tions with doc­tors and then left, ac­cord­ing to the Su­pe­rior Court de­ci­sion.

The next morn­ing, he brought two loaded hand­guns and ex­tra ammo with him to the un­guarded lobby at Western Psy­chi­atric and be­gan shoot­ing.

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