Receptionist at Shick rampage said she had asked about barrier

She was told bullet resistance too costly, according to filing in suit against shooter's estate

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A recent court filing by a receptionist wounded during the mass shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic says that prior to the rampage she asked whether a bullet-resistant barrier would be installed around her desk during a remodeling of the Oakland mental hospital's lobby but was told it would not happen because of the cost to UPMC.

Western Psych workers have expressed concerns about their safety at the facility since schizophrenic gunman John F. Shick entered March 8 and began firing two handguns. Shick shot receptionist Kathryn F. Leight and five others, killing one, before police shot him dead.

In a Friday court filing, attorney Mark J. Homyak wrote that Mrs. Leight had worked at one time at a UPMC facility behind a bullet-resistant barrier. As a result, when the lobby remodeling of Western Psych took place, she wondered if similar safety accommodations would be made.

"She asked one of the individuals who she believed to have been present on behalf of a UPMC entity during the construction whether the remodeling of the receptionist's desk that was to occur would include installation of a BRB," or bullet-resistant barrier, the filing says.

"This was of particular interest and concern to [Mrs. Leight], in that she regularly had to check lethal weapons for patients who had entered the psychiatric hospital for evaluation and treatment. The unknown person responded that UPMC could not afford to do so."

Mr. Homyak said the remodeling occurred about two years ago. At the time, he said, Mrs. Leight did not make a specific request for a bullet-resistant barrier to be installed.

"I think that she accepted the response rather than going a step further and being more adamant in demonstrating her desire to have one installed," Mr. Homyak said Monday.

During Mrs. Leight's time as a receptionist at Western Psych, she handled a variety of weapons given to her by people entering the facility, including machetes, hatchets, knives and a gun, according to Mr. Homyak.

"They would hand them to her and she would check them behind the desk until the person left," he said.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood disputed Mr. Homyak's timing of a Western Psych lobby renovation and said the "last remodeling of the reception area took place in 1997."

In response to questions about the renovation and the conversation Mrs. Leight claims to have had about security, Mr. Wood said:

"UPMC can't and won't comment on a conversation Ms. Leight allegedly had with an 'unknown person' whom she believed was present during an unspecified renovation project at WPIC [Western Psych].

"UPMC takes the safety of its employees very seriously and tries to protect them from reasonably foreseeable harm. Unfortunately John Shick's attack upon the lobby of WPIC, a building he apparently had never entered before, was not reasonably foreseeable."

Mr. Homyak's filing is part of an ongoing lawsuit by Mrs. Leight and her husband, John. Although the Leights are suing Shick's estate, Mr. Homyak last month subpoenaed information from UPMC, of which Western Psych is a part.

UPMC is trying to quash the subpoena, and its attorneys dismissed Mr. Homyak's efforts as a fishing expedition. Both sides argued their points Friday before Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr.

Through his subpoena, Mr. Homyak is trying to determine who else might be potentially legally liable for his client's injuries.

One of his goals is to determine exactly who Mrs. Leight worked for, which legal entity actually occupies the Western Psych facility and which UPMC entities contracted for lobby remodeling.

"... Plaintiffs have no way of knowing the identities of those outside entities, or what their responsibilities were in terms of design of the project(s), including who was responsible for determining to not include a [bullet-resistant barrier] for the receptionist, or a metal detector for the entrance," the filing says.

It is crucial for Mr. Homyak to identify the exact arm of UPMC that was Mrs. Leight's employer as well as the legal entity that occupies the Western Psych facility and would have been obliged to take appropriate steps to safeguard employees.

Under state law, there are few instances in which a worker can sue an employer for on-the-job injuries because workers' compensation already covers medical bills and partial lost wages, precluding litigation.

In certain circumstances, however, employees are permitted to file personal injury suits against their employers. Such suits allow for consideration of pain and suffering in any payout.

Mrs. Leight, 65, of Shaler still has medical problems and is facing more surgery because of a complication from the shooting.

Mr. Homyak is seeking to learn exactly who Mrs. Leight's employer was in order to determine whether that entity had workers' compensation insurance on the day of the shooting or a state permit allowing it to be self-insured.

If neither provision holds true, Mr. Homyak said, an employer can be sued.

Figuring out the identity of Mrs. Leight's employer is not as easy as it might sound.

"UPMC has created a labyrinthine maze of legal entities to conduct its far-flung, multi-national, multi-billion dollar operations, with constantly evolving corporate structures and changing names," Mr. Homyak wrote.

"This court has on many occasions granted motions to correct the name of UPMC defendants as the result of UPMC's practice in that regard, despite the best efforts of opposing counsel to check public corporate record filings in order to determine the true name of the entity attempting to be sued."

neigh_city - health

Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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