Aurora Victim’s Widow Sues Killer’s Psychiatrist

It has been six months since the horrific tragedy in Colorado and it’s no surprise that the families of the 12 people murdered and the 70 people injured are trying to recover their damages.

This story interested me because I represented a medical student who was nearly killed inside our AMC theatre in downtown Fort Worth. I had to file suit against AMC and the owners of Sundance Square because there was no security to prevent the brutal attack (there is now, thankfully).

The widow of a man killed filed a lawsuit against the University of Colorado doctor who
evaluated James Holmes after he said that he fantasized about killing people. Notices have been filed by 11 other people who plan to also sue the university and the doctor for her negligent failure to prevent the rampage.

The lawsuit claims that the shootings would never have occurred if Dr. Lynne Fenton (pictured above at a court hearing to determine the competence of Holmes in his criminal trial earlier) had ordered a psychiatric hold on Holmes. But whether the hold would have made a difference is not at all clear, since it is generally limited to 72 hours. The killings happened five weeks after Holmes made his vague comment.

But proving that Fenton did not conform to standards required of her profession will not be easy. There is no way to know if holding Holmes would have prevented the attack and he would have been released.

The burden of proof for civil lawsuits will be less than is required in the pending criminal case against Holmes. A lawsuit requires only that the preponderance of evidence is more likely true than not true.

The lawsuit says the widow and her two children have suffered loss of companionship, emotional and psychological distress, and economic damages in an amount greater than $75,000, the bar for filing suit in federal court. Damages will be capped under the Tort Claims Act.

The Cinemark movie chain, which just reopened, has already been sued by other victims. You can bet that the theatre will have plenty of armed guards present.

I just returned from Israel, where an armed guard stopped my wife and I went into a shopping mall (to see “Argo,” ironically) and there were soldiers with M-16s strapped to their backs on the streets. At the rate things are going, it’s sad to think that that may happen here too.

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