The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Maryland Appellate Court”) held in its unreported opinion filed on July 24, 2020 that the defendant hospital in a Maryland wrongful death case in which a psychiatric patient killed another person eleven days after absconding from the hospital was entitled to statutory immunity from such claims.
After allegedly robbing a person at gunpoint at a gas station, Anthony Clark, Jr. (“Clark”) had been spotted fleeing into a nearby residence. A number of police officers responded. The officers observed Clark “behaving violently[,] cut[ting] his wrists with a box-cutter, and warn[ing] that [the officers] would ‘have to kill him.’” The officers entered the home and subdued Clark. Medics transported Clark to the University of Maryland Medical Center (“UMMC”) for emergency medical treatment. Clark was admitted to UMMC, where he underwent surgery the following day to repair the self-inflicted laceration on his wrist.
Within several hours of his admission to UMMC, Clark submitted to a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist ordered a sitter for Clark due to his recent suicide attempt. Clark, still in a hospital gown, subsequently walked out of his hospital room and left the building, allegedly because the sitter fell asleep. Eleven days later, Clark shot and killed DiAndre Barnes.
A multi-count complaint was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, naming UMMS and several Baltimore City police officers as defendants that sought to hold UMMS liable for negligently failing to secure Clark during his stay as a patient at UMMC. UMMS moved for summary judgment, arguing its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on two grounds: (1) it was immune from liability under CJP § 5-609(b), which generally states that a cause of action does not arise against a mental health care provider for failing to take precautions to provide protection from a patient’s violent behavior, unless the provider knew of the patient’s propensity for violence and the patient had indicated an intention to inflict imminent physical injury upon a specified victim or group of victims, and (2) even if it did not have immunity under CJP § 5-609(b), it had no duty to protect DiAndre Barnes from Clark’s criminal conduct and that, as a matter of law, Clark’s conduct was unforeseeable.
The Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted summary judgment in favor of UMMS on all claims in the survival action and the wrongful death action, and the plaintiff appealed.
Maryland Appellate Court Opinion
In Maryland, a mental health care provider is generally immune from civil liability for failing to provide protection from a patient’s violent behavior: “A cause of action . . . may not arise against any mental health care provider or administrator for failing to predict, warn of, or take precautions to provide protection from a patient’s violent behavior unless the mental health care provider or administrator knew of the patient’s propensity for violence and the patient indicated to the mental health care provider or administrator, by speech, conduct, or writing, of the patient’s intention to inflict imminent physical injury upon a specified victim or group of victims.” Annotated Code of Maryland, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, Section 5-609(b).
The Maryland Appellate Court held: “Under the Barnes family’s formulation, the inchoate group of Clark’s potential victims could number in the thousands, if not the tens or hundreds of thousands. In our judgment, therefore, Clark did not indicate an intention to inflict “imminent physical injury upon a specified victim or group of victims.” CJP § 5-609(b) (emphasis added). For that reason, the circuit court did not err in directing the entry of summary judgment in UMMS’s favor.”
Source Barnes v. University of Maryland Medical System Corporation, No. 1066 September Term, 2019 and No. 430 September Term, 2020.
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