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Psychiatrist Isn’t Liable for Patient’s Shooting

(CN) - A California psychiatrist did not violate a duty of care to the survivors of a shooting perpetrated by one of his patients, a California appeals court ruled.

Psychiatrist Laurence Greenberg appealed after the Superior Court of Orange County denied his motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by Denise and Brandon Smith.

The Smiths sought a judgment against Greenberg for wrongful death after his patient, William Freund, shot and killed Denise's husband and daughter before turning the gun on himself.

Freund was a friend of Brandon. He suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism that affects a patient's social interaction skills.

Freund, 19, went on a support-group Web site called Wrong Planet and wrote that he had bought a gun and was going to "blast things away."

He complained on the site of his parents' controlling nature and of the "concoction of pills" that Greenberg had prescribed for him. However, neither Greenberg nor any members' of the Smith family knew about Freund's Internet posts.

The Smiths sued Greenberg for medical negligence, asserting that he should have monitored Freund more closely between his prescription of Lexapro and the shooting.

"Plaintiff's argument that petitioner's treatment of Freund was the actual cause of Freund's attack on the Smith family skips over the issue of duty, i.e., whether petitioner owed plaintiffs a duty of care when making medical decisions regarding the treatment of his patient," wrote Justice Ikola of the Santa Ana-based appeals court.

The plaintiffs argued that the case was similar to Calderon v. Glick (2005), but Ikola noted that in that case, the girlfriend was an identifiable target of the killer's rage.

"Freund exhibited no violent tendencies or motives against the Smith family," Ikola wrote. "As plaintiff's stress in their argument, Freund was not already noticeably deranged."

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