Should psychiatrist be held partially responsible for shooter’s actions?

It has already been one month since the tragic school shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but Americans have certainly not forgotten about what happened. Public discourse continues on the subject of how to make sure the mentally ill get the proper treatment they need in order to protect themselves from doing dangerous things and to protect others from becoming victims of senseless acts of violence.

This issue is a very sensitive subject; however, it is one that many Americans feel is absolutely necessary for our country to address. But why are we bringing this subject up on our Chicago medical malpractice law blog? We are bringing up this subject today because the massacre has caused some to question whether medical professionals are doing enough to make sure severely mentally ill patients are being placed in mental health facilities when they show signs that they may harm themselves or others.

Over the summer, other innocent lives were taken when a gunman went on a shooting spree at a movie theater in Colorado. According to reports, the alleged gunman had gone to a psychiatrist just weeks before the shooting. Now, the man’s psychiatrist is being sued by one victim’s family for breaching her duty to provide “reasonable care.”

The lawsuit states that the psychiatrist had an opportunity to have the patient placed in confinement six weeks before the shooting occurred. However, the psychiatrist decided that it was not necessary to do so, even though the patient told her that he had been thinking about killing “a lot of people.” Six weeks later, the man was accused of killing and injuring dozens of people when he allegedly opened fire in a packed movie theater.

Twelve people were killed in the incident. One victim was a U.S. Navy veteran who had two young children and a wife. His wife now claims that the psychiatrist is partially responsible for her husband’s wrongful death because she had a duty as a mental health professional to protect the public from her severely ill patient. Had the doctor properly assessed her patient’s condition, she might have considered placing the patient in a mental health institution.

It will be interesting to see whether the doctor will be held partially accountable for her patient’s alleged actions.

Source: Reuters, “Dr. Lynne Fenton, James Holmes’ psychiatrist, sued by victim’s widow over Aurora theater shooting,” Keith Coffman, Jan. 15, 2013

  • Our firm provides counsel to those who have been harmed by a doctor’s negligence or a doctor’s failure to properly diagnose a medical condition. To learn more about our firm and practice, please visit our Chicago misdiagnosis lawyer page.

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