Suit Over Schizophrenic’s Rampage Marches Ahead

     (CN) – A couple suing over a schizophrenic man’s shooting rampage can intervene in the fight between the shooter’s administrator and insurer, a federal judge ruled.
     The April 2013 amended complaint from Kathryn and John Leight gives a thorough look at John Schick’s psychiatric decline, beginning with the onset of schizophrenia a short time after he graduated from Columbia University in Manhattan.
     His mother allegedly preferred to “sail on her yacht rather than more closely provide support, guidance and assistance to her son.”
     In and out of hospitalization and unable to keep a job, Schick moved to Pittsburgh in 2011 after he was accepted to a doctoral program there, according to the complaint.
     The school quickly threw Schick out because of his bizarre behavior, however, and in March 2012 the 30-year-old allegedly entered the Western State Psychiatric Institute and Clinic with two loaded handguns.
     Schick shot Kathy Leight behind the receptionist’s desk and fired at several others in the lobby as well, ultimately killing one before a campus police officer shot and killed Schick, according to the complaint.
     Leight and her husband sought punitive damages from the administrator of Schick’s estate, Phillip Clark, as well as the various entities that treated Schick or ran Western Psych.
     Since Schick had a rental property and limited personal liability policy with State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Clark then filed a claim for indemnification.
     The insurer then sued Clark in the Western District of Pennsylvania, seeking a ruling that it does not have to defend or indemnify Clark in the Leight action.
     State Farm said Schick’s actions did not constitute an “occurrence” under the policy because they were not accidental, unexpected, or fortuitous, but rather, intentional.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly allowed the Leights to intervene in the State Farm action on April 5.
     U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak affirmed Kelly’s order June 17, holding that the two cases share “common questions of law or fact” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(b).
     “Crucial to both the Leights’ tort action and the instant action is the intentionality vel non of Mr. Schick’s conduct: what was running through Mr. Schick’s mind at the time he allegedly shot Ms. Leight will be imperative in determining both (1) under which theory of tort liability, if any, he is liable to the Leights (especially given that intentional torts and negligence carry different requirements of the tortfeasor’s mental state); and (2) whether that action was fortuitous, accidental, unexpected, or unintended under the policy,” Hornak wrote (parentheses in original). “Such questions may be especially complex in this case, where a mental illness such as schizophrenia is alleged, and detailed medical opinions and analyses may be necessary to help illuminate what may have been Mr. Schick’s mental state at the time of the shooting.”
     The magistrate judge’s determination “was not at all clearly erroneous nor [sic] contrary to law,” Hornak added.

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