UPMC lawyers dispute claims in Western Psych shooting lawsuit

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In a strongly worded document, attorneys for UPMC argued that the lawsuit brought by a woman who was shot by John Shick last year at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic should be thrown out.

In their preliminary objections, hospital system lawyers said the claims made by Kathryn Leight, who worked as a receptionist at the mental health hospital in Oakland, are deficient.

Ms. Leight, of Shaler, was shot, along with four others by Shick on March 8, 2012. Michael Schaab, a therapist there, was killed. Shick engaged in a gun battle with University of Pittsburgh police and was shot and killed.

Attorney Mark J. Homyak filed the lawsuit on Ms. Leight's behalf in June 2012 and an amended complaint in April. It names as defendants UPMC, University of Pittsburgh Physicians, the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC's res:solve mobile crisis unit, as well as Shick's mother and the administrator of his estate.

Mr. Homyak said Tuesday evening he would not comment on the brief that was filed Monday.

In it, UPMC attorneys allege that Ms. Leight's claims for negligence and punitive damages are unfounded.

Among them, she alleged that UPMC had a duty to protect her from Shick.

But in preliminary objections, attorneys for the hospital system said that is not the case, and that "Pennsylvania courts have consistently held that there is no duty to warn/protect plaintiffs from psychiatric patients."

The woman also alleged in her lawsuit that UPMC and its entities were negligent for failing to have Shick committed after having seen him multiple times for mental health issues.

According to the lawsuit, at least 17 doctors from UPMC treated Shick over a period of several months before the shootings. Two doctors made plans to have him involuntarily committed, but those efforts were stopped, it said.

Ms. Leight said in her complaint that Shick brandished a baseball bat at people at a UPMC facility and that twice its mobile crisis unit was sent to his North Oakland apartment, though he was never assessed.

UPMC's attorneys said the lawsuit is deficient and fails to set forth facts "which establish a duty on the part of the plaintiffs" to have Shick committed. Further, they said that what is alleged would not support such action.

Instead, the attorneys claim the entire amended complaint should be stricken because it is "replete with allegations of 'scandalous and impertinent' matter."

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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