January 17, 2013

162017_132140396847214_292624_nOn January 14, 2013,  the widow of a man killed in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater on July 20, 2012 during a shooting spree that killed 12 and injured another 70 filed a medical malpractice lawsuit and other claims in the United States District Court in Denver, Colorado against the University of Colorado Denver (“CU”), the shooter’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, and five unnamed defendants. Dr. Fenton was the Director of Student Mental Health Services on CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus, where James Holmes, who is accused of going on the shooting rampage during the midnight showing of the movie The Dark Knight Rises at the Century Aurora 16 movie theater, was studying neuroscience until he withdrew from his studies shortly before the shooting rampage.

According to the federal malpractice lawsuit, Holmes had told Dr. Fenton on June 11, 2012 that he fantasized about killing a lot of people. While Dr. Fenton reportedly contacted CU’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team regarding Holmes’ statement to her, she did not take further action and allegedly advised a campus police officer that the officer should not apprehend Holmes and place him on a psychiatric hold. The medical malpractice lawsuit alleges that Dr. Fenton failed to use reasonable care when the campus police officer offered to place Holmes on a psychiatric hold that could have lasted up to 72 hours. The medical malpractice lawsuit alleges that had Dr. Fenton instructed the campus police officer to apprehend Holmes for psychiatric hold, subsequent events would have prevented Holmes from carrying out the killings and maiming that occurred in the movie theater on July 20, 2012.

The medical malpractice plaintiff, who seeks damages in excess of $75,000 on behalf of herself and her children for economic losses and non-economic damages such as emotional distress and loss of companionship, may have high hurdles to overcome if her medical malpractice lawsuit is to be successful. Perhaps the highest hurdle will be proving the seemingly tenuous connection between the psychiatrist’s failure to authorize the psychiatric hold and the subsequent shootings — if a psychiatric hold of Holmes had been authorized and implemented, what would have happened next? Would Holmes have been released after the maximum 72-hour hold period expired or would a medical evaluation during the hold have resulted in a judge approving the continued involuntary commitment of Holmes? Would Holmes’ plan to commit the heinous actions in the Aurora movie theater been revealed during his commitment (assuming that Holmes had formulated his plan by the time he would have been committed)? Would Holmes have been under medical treatment as of July 20, 2012 that would have prevented him from carrying out his despicable actions on that date?

Another issue that will probably be a source of contention during the medical malpractice proceeding will be the extent to which Dr. Fenton will be able to reveal information obtained from Holmes or about Holmes that may be confidential pursuant to the psychiatrist-patient privilege that precludes disclosure.


If you or a family member may have been injured or suffered other losses as a result of possible medical malpractice in Colorado or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the advice of a Colorado medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may be able to investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and file a medical malpractice case on your behalf, if appropriate.

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