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Third Circuit Permits §1983 Claims To Proceed Against Healthcare Facility Permitting Unsupervised Visit When There Is “Foreseeable Harm”

February 11, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Mears-v.-Connolly-et-al.-1.pdf">Mears v. Connolly, et al.</a>,</em> the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ §1983 claims against a nurse and hospital that permitted a visitor to remain with a patient unsupervised, who then violently attacked by the patient.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiffs Jun-Lori Mears and Michael Mears sued a nurse, among others, after June-Lori Mears was attacked by her son, who suffers from bi-polar disorder. Over the course of his three years in Greystone Park psychiatric, he attacked several other patients, even sending one to the intensive care unit. Despite his violent outbursts, hospital staff informed his parents that it was safe to visit him.  Further, Brenden’s nurse, despite knowing of Brenden’s violent tendencies and recent outbursts, she did not supervise the visit. Brenden attacked his mother and broke several of her ribs. The incident caused her severe psychological trauma.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Mears sued the hospital and nurse under §1983. The district court dismissed the claims, reasoning that the nurse had not affirmatively acted to create a danger and that the mother had not suffered a “foreseeable and fairly direct” harm. However, the Third Circuit reversed, reasoning that the nurse had personally supervised Brenden for months, knew of his violent propensity, and saw that just three days prior to the visit he had been acting bizarre. The court concluded that this was enough to put her on notice of the serious threat that Brenden posed to the mother’s health on an unsupervised visit.  The Circuit Court broadened the meaning of “foreseeable harm” to include that “foreseeable” does not actually require any specific history of violence.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to John Lang for his contribution to this article.  Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken</a>.</p>

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