Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label mental health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mental health. Show all posts

Monday, August 31, 2020

Horrors at Oak Ridge Psychiatric amounted to assault, battery, but lacked intent for IIED, Ontario court rules

From 1963 to 1988, patients involuntarily committed to the maximum-security Oak Ridge Mental Health Centre at Penetanguishene, Ontario, were subject to barbaric experimentation.  (From CBC (2016), above.) Treatments included LSD, other mind-altering drugs, and corporeal maltreatment, such as "the Capsule":

a soundproof, windowless, and constantly lit 8’ x 10’ room, with no furniture and an exposed toilet, where groups of patients, had their interactions monitored through closed-circuit television and a one-way mirror by patient observers outside....

Patients ... were frequently restrained or strapped to each other, and were most often injected with DDT drugs to lower their inhibitions. They were often paired so that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia experiencing a chaotic range of emotions where placed together with patients with antisocial personality disorders....

So egregious were the methods employed at Oak Ridge that 28 former patients now suing the Crown could have made out a fair case for medical negligence.  But the Ontario court was willing to find intentional torts, assault and battery, instead.  Notwithstanding lawful involuntary commitment and seeming express consent to treatment procured from patients, the extreme nature of the medical experimentation rendered the patients' informed consent impossible, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in June.

At the same time, the patients could not prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, for want of "double-duty intent" (my words); that is, although medical staff inflicted emotional distress intentionally in the short term, and notwithstanding the lasting psychological trauma that resulted, the defendants, however misguided, acted with the greater goal, or intent, of making the patients well.

Hat tip to Private Law Theory, which reported an examination of the case against an historical analysis of battery in Canadian common law by Omar Ha-Redeye, executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic in Oshawa, Ontario.

The case is Barker v. Barker, 2020 ONSC 3746 (CanLII) (Ont. Super. Ct. June 25, 2020) (Canada).

Watch and read more about Oak Ridge with Canadian Broadcasting (2016) (above) and in other sources.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Court refuses to dismiss Harvard in student-suicide suit

The Massachuetts Superior Court, per Judge Michael D. Ricciuti, denied Harvard University's motion to dismiss a negligence claim brought by the parent of a student, Luke Tang, who committed suicide on campus in 2015.  The case comes in the wake of a 2018 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision refusing to allow the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to be held responsible for a student's suicide.

Luke Tang lived at Harvard's Lowell House.  (Photo by Carrie Anderson
CC BY-SA 2.0)
In the 2015 case, Nguyen v. MIT, discussed here, the SJC ruled that the university-student relationship does not support a duty in tort law akin to the custodial relationship between a parent and child, or custodian and dependent.  That ruling was consistent with historic and enduring common law norms, which hold that a person's intentional suicide, in some jurisdictions a crime, interrupts the chain of duty and causation that would link the death to any earlier-in-time carelessness.

However, the SJC left open the possibility that a university could be responsible for a suicide if the decedent had been in a "special relationship" with the defendant.  "Special relationship" is a term of art in tort law, referring to the very relationships in which public policy supports a person's expectation of care from another.

In the instant case, Tang v. Harvard College, plaintiff seeks to pin liability on Harvard and its employees through that very allowance for special relationships.  As reported by the Harvard Crimson last year, Tang was known to Harvard as a suicide risk.  Tang had been transported to a hospital after a suicide attempt freshman year.  When he returned to school, he signed an agreement with Harvard that he would stay in counseling with Harvard mental health staff.  Returning to school after the summer, though, Tang failed to keep his appointments, and the complaint alleges that Harvard failed to follow up.

Special relationships in tort law can be created when a medical professional undertakes care of a patient, or when any person voluntarily takes on the responsibility of caring for another, which can be signified by action or contract.  Tang's theory of special relationship resonates in those ways, considering the counseling function of Harvard staff and the agreement that Tang signed with Harvard.

Superior Court Justice Michael D. Ricciuti found sufficient basis to distinguish Nguyen.  Justice Ricciuti wrote, "Harvard's argument to dismiss this case reduces Nguyen to a check-box, and that once a university checks one of the three boxes—a protocol, or if there is none, clinical care, or if that is refused, reaching an emergency contact—its duty ends regardless of how well or poorly the university fulfils its duty. That interpretation cannot be correct."

Justice Ricciuti is himself a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law.  A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, he was in private practice and served as federal prosecutor before being confirmed to the bench.

The case is Tang v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 18-2603 (Mass. Super. Ct. Sept. 9, 2019).  Hat tip @ Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (pay wall).  Read more at The Harvard Crimson.  For a short time, I will park a copy of Justice Ricciuti's ruling here.

A documentary film about Luke Tang, Looking for Luke, seeks to raise awareness of mental health problems affecting young people.  Here is the trailer.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Not sure how to keep guns away from the mentally unfit? This cop has a stake and a plan.
Plus: Sandy Hook Update

Rob Devine, former deputy police chief of Stoughton,
Massachusetts, and a concerned parent.
Father of two, 19-year police veteran, UMass Law J.D. candidate 2020, and a distinguished survivor of my 1L Torts class, Robert C. Devine has published some practical but scholarly policy advice "to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions."  Here is the abstract:
The United States is in a state of conflict over the ability to obtain firearms as well as their use in highly publicized mass shootings. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza obtained several firearms that were lawfully owned by his mother, but were improperly secured. Lanza killed his mother that morning and then drove a short distance to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he murdered twenty-six people, many of whom were small children. Lanza eventually turned a gun on himself before being confronted by responding officers. Though mass shootings are often headlines in this country, the vast majority of misused firearms by the mentally ill are tragically used in suicide. The lessons of these examples must be used to augment current firearms policy in an effort to reduce the availability of firearms to those suffering with afflictions that make them ill-equipped to have access to them. Though the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asks pointed questions in these areas regarding the fitness of the potential license holder, it collects no data whatsoever regarding other full-time household members where a firearm may be kept, nor what measures the licensee takes to ensure its security.
This Article illustrates a policy, grounded in facilitative principles, designed to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions. Key components to the solution’s success should rely on increased vetting of the licensee’s environment and where lawfully owned firearms will be stored, in combination with assessing the risk factors of having been hospitalized for mental health, drug dependence, or alcohol dependence. This recommendation is merely an expansion of questions already used in the current Massachusetts firearms licensing application and would produce additional factors that a licensing official may consider when determining the suitability of an applicant. It is important to note that this would not be an outright prohibition for a licensee, which would likely be constitutionally impermissible. This Article concludes by reemphasizing the importance of giving licensing officials more information to consider in an effort to lower the risk of lawfully owned firearms ending up in the hands of the mentally ill or violent.

Mr. Devine takes due account of the Second Amendment, but recognizes that we're not doing all we can to implement regulation, even at the margins, that is hardly controversial.  The full article, Recommendations for Improving Firearms Vetting in Massachusetts, is available from the UMass Law Review and published at 14:2 U. Mass. L. Rev. 350 (Spring 2019).

Sandy Hook Update

The Connecticut Law Tribune reported last week that the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on September 26 in the defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones and InfoWars.  The trial court had allowed limited discovery despite the defense's anti-SLAPP motion.  The case is Lafferty v. Jones (Complaint at Scribd).

Meanwhile the Sandy Hook gun manufacturer liability suit against Remington is pending defense cert. petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, since the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed plaintiffs a narrow theory to circumnavigate Remington's federal statutory immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (at The Savory Tort). That case is now Remington Arms Co. v. Soto.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Teachable moment in Torts:
'Complaint alleges mom with dementia dumped outside Long Beach healthcare facility'

National media this week picked up this story from CBS Los Angeles about a woman suffering from dementia who wound up on the street after what looks like a botched transfer between a hospital and her residential facility.  The victim's daughter filed a complaint with regulatory authorities, but so far has said she will not file suit.  As advanced or two-semester classes in U.S. tort law wade into the deep end of the pool this spring, this story invites analysis on a number of fronts.  Here are some questions to get the discussion going.



1. Does the victim, through her daughter, have any cause of action in common law tort?  Can the injury requirement be met for the general negligence tort? for recklessness?

2. Is there a breach of duty here that can support a business tort?  Are there damages recoverable in business torts?

3. Could this be actionable "negligent infliction of emotional distress" (NIED)? in some states?  Can you demonstrate balance in the elements of negligence to persuade a court that NIED here will not open the floodgates?

4. How does the victim's dementia affect the torts case?  Is she an eggshell plaintiff?  Could she have been contributorily negligent?  Can she have been both at the same time?

5. Could the outcome of the regulatory investigation affect proof or liability in a tort case?

6. Does any tort theory rest in the daughter as plaintiff on her own behalf?  Is there any way to plaintiff-bystander liability?

7. Low temperatures in Los Angeles in the last week were only in the 50s (F), but northern cities have been in the grip of below-zero record lows.  Suppose the victim had been outside in Chicago and suffered frostbite.  How does that change the disposition of her tort claims? her daughter's?

8. Further entertaining the idea that the victim suffered physical injury, can the defendant make dispositive arguments on duty? on causation?  What's the difference?  Could there be a "scope of liability" problem in the terms of the Third Restatement?

9. There are two healthcare facilities involved.  Could both be defendants?  Would both be liable?  Would liability be joint or several? apportioned? to what effect?



🌠 Coming this June from Carolina Academic Press!
The Media Method:
Teaching Law with Popular Culture

Edited by LSU Law Prof. Christine A. Corcos, @LpcProf, Media Law Prof Blog
With contribution on torts by yours truly

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Money can't redeem life, but don't think it doesn't help tort survivors


When my 1L Torts class studies wrongful death, I take the occasion to challenge the notion that money, based on quantified loss, is necessarily the best way to effect a liability award (cf. Prof. Andrew McClurg's gut-wrenching and classic Dead Sorrow).  Matthew R. Stevens, '21, posted the following on the class discussion board, and I think it makes a worthwhile complementary observation about tort awards in our age of debt and financial fragility.  Reprinted with permission.



Some Thoughts on Wrongful Death Damages
by Matthew Stevens – Friday, January 25, 2019

Professor Peltz-Steele discussed the idea of money damages in wrongful death actions, and their ability to make up for what was lost. He challenged whether they really made that pain any better, and whether a $1,000,000 award helps any more than a $500,000 award. I just wanted to share my thoughts on a possible argument that the monetary damages could help make up for what is lost.

The loss of a family member is surely nothing short of a nightmare. The impending depression, stress, and various other negative emotions can impact someone’s life in irrepressible ways. No earthly remedy could ever truly provide perfect relief for such a loss. I think it could be argued, however, that money is well suited to lessen the impact of the loss.

According to a Case Western study [reported here by CNBC], increased income can actually cause a “reduction in negative emotions” (CNBC, para. 6). Furthermore, the study also found that higher incomes could “reduce the incidence of serious mental illness” (CNBC, para. 6). It is important to note that the study is dealing with annual incomes, and not large lump sums of cash. The study also notes that the increase in happiness shows diminished returns as you reach upwards of $160,000 a year (CNBC, fig. 2). I think this can be reconciled by looking at the damages award as a lump-sum salary. For example, if a father at the age of 40 received a wrongful death damages award of $1,000,000, you could divide that award by the remainder years before retirement (25) to create a net increase in annual income of $40,000. That increased “income” could statistically reduce his negative emotions, and reduce the chances of serious mental illness. An award of $500,000 would surely help, but over time it would not have as big of an effect, only creating an extra $20,000 in annual income. This of course is not a fix-all, but it is certainly a start to fix the unfixable.

Moreover, on the other side of the coin, issues with money statistically causes large amounts of stress. An APA survey in 2014 found that “72 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time during the past month” (APA, para. 3). Furthermore, 22% experienced “extreme stress” over money in the past month (APA, para. 3). The study goes even further to explain the types of issues stressing over money creates, including avoiding medical care, and being a major conflict in relationships (APA, para. 5). So then perhaps the increased monetary awards for wrongful death actions could effectively reduce stress in the claimant’s life. With a large influx of cash, it is arguable that a lot of money-induced stress would be taken out of the picture and increasing the claimant’s quality of life.

This of course was a quick look into the idea of monetary damages and their possible ability to remedy the loss of a loved one. I would like to reiterate that I don’t believe money can ever replace the loss of a loved one, but I’m simply saying there is an argument that money helps reduce the net loss of quality of life for the claimant. It does appear that the theory holds some weight, but with its issues: one major issue being the diminishing returns on happiness when income reaches a certain threshold. Perhaps this could be integrated into the analysis more, but I wanted to keep a small scope for the analysis.