Injury To a Third Party

August 9th, 2018 by Rieders Travis in Medical Malpractice

Laura L. Maas v. Presbyterian, 2018 Pa. Super. LEXIS 752 (June 29, 2018) Bowes, J.  The facts giving rise to this cause of action are as follows. On May 29, 2008, Terrence Andrews attacked and killed Lisa Maas, a neighbor who lived four doors away in his Oakland apartment building. Mr. Andrews had a long history of mental illness. He had been an inpatient at Mayview State Hospital, where he was diagnosed with, inter alia, paranoid personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. He had attempted suicide on several occasions and suffered opioid and cocaine dependence. In 2006, he was transitioned to the CTT, and placed in a personal care home. It was at that location that defendant Michelle Barwell, M.D., a psychiatrist who worked with the CTT, first saw him.

Four days later, Pittsburgh Police responded to a call of a possible domestic dispute at Hampshire Hall. The officers observed Mr. Andrews, covered in blood, leaving the fourth floor apartment of eighteen-year-old Lisa Maas, a Pennsylvania Culinary Institute student. Ms. Maas was dead due to multiple stab wounds from scissors. Mr. Andrews told police that he did it, and asked to be taken to jail. He also informed the officers that he told Defendant Barwell to put him in WPIC because he was going to kill someone, and that the medication was not working.

The UPMC Defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging that mental health care professionals only have a duty to warn specifically identified persons, not a nebulous group of individuals. Administratrix countered that the victim’s name was not required where the potential victims, Mr. Andrews’s neighbors, were readily ascertainable. The trial court denied the UPMC Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that the UPMC Defendants had a duty to warn on the facts presented. The UPMC Defendants obtained the requisite certification and permission to appeal that interlocutory order, and they present one question for our review: Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt’s misapplication of Emerich v. Philadelphia Center for Human Development, Inc., 720 A.2d 1032 (Pa. 1998), improperly imposed on mental health care providers a duty to warn about vague, non-specific, and nonimminent expressions of homicidal ideations made by Mr. Andrews?

The UPMC Defendants cite Emerich v. Philadelphia Center for Human Development, Inc., 720 A.2d 1032 (Pa. 1998), for the proposition that Pennsylvania law only imposes a duty on mental health professionals to warn third parties of the danger posed by a mental health patient in limited circumstances, which they contend are not present here. Specifically, the duty arises where (1) a special relationship exists between the mental health professional and the patient; (2) the patient has communicated to the mental health professional a specific and immediate threat of serious bodily injury; (3) the patient’s threat is against a specifically identified or readily identifiable third party; and (4) the mental health professional determines, or should determine, that the patient presents a serious danger of violence to the third party. Id. at 1043. The dispute herein primarily involves the third prong. The UPMC Defendants contend that since no potential victim was identified by name, they had no duty to warn.

It is undisputed that Mr. Andrews did not verbalize a specific threat against Lisa Maas or any other named individual. However, he communicated to the UPMC Defendants his intent to kill his neighbor and his next-door neighbor. He had a plan. He was going to use scissors to stab his neighbor. Shortly before the tragic events herein, he told the UPMC Defendants that he was carrying scissors on his person for that purpose.

We agree with the trial court that Administratrix made the requisite prima facie showing of a duty under Emerich. The remaining questions as to whether the UPMC Defendants breached that duty, whether their conduct fell below the standard of care, and if so, whether it was a cause in fact of Lisa Maas’s death, are questions of fact for the jury.

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