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Maryland Hospital Immune to Lawsuit in Murder of Teen by Psychiatric Patient

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University of Maryland Medical Center

After being hit with a personal injury lawsuit claiming negligence in the death of a teen boy murdered by a psychiatric patient, a University of Maryland hospital has been ruled immune under a state law shielding mental health care providers. A Maryland appellate panel comprised of a three-judge Court of Special Appeals affirmed a summary judgment ruling in favor of the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation on Friday.

The lawsuit had accused the corporation of failing to properly monitor one of its psychiatric patients, Anthony Clark Jr., and prevent him from escaping the University of Maryland Medical Center in June 2016. The suit alleged that the hospital’s negligence allowed Clark, 11 days after absconding from the facility, to shoot and kill 13-year-old DiAndre Barnes.

Clark was admitted to the psychiatric ward following a suicide attempt, which occurred shortly after being arrested for armed robbery. According to the court’s opinion, Baltimore police intended to press criminal charges against Clark upon being discharged from the psychiatric facility. However, Clark escaped after a hospital employee tasked with observing him fell asleep.

Citing a Maryland statute — CJP Section 5-609(b) which states that a mental health care provider is immune to suits over a patient’s violent behavior unless it can be established that the provider was aware of a patient’s violent propensities and that the patient indicated an intention to harm a specific victim or group of victims — a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit.

But the Barnes family appealed, arguing a factual dispute existed over whether or not the hospital had knowledge of Clark’s potential for violence.

The three-judge panel ultimately rejected that argument. In its decision, the panel stated, “Even if one assumes the hospital knew of Clark’s propensity for violence, there was no evidence submitted regarding its knowledge that Clark would harm a specific person or group, let alone Barnes.” “The Barnes family, therefore, cannot satisfy the second of the two conditions necessary to overcome the immunity,” the panel said.

The original complaint alleged that Clark had informed hospital staff members he would hurt “males in Baltimore that crossed his path,” but the appeals court determined such a statement was too broad an overgeneralization, which did not meet the conditions of the immunity statute.

“Under the Barnes family’s formulation, the inchoate group of Clark’s potential victims could number in the thousands, if not the tens or hundreds of thousands,” the panel said. “In our judgment, therefore, Clark did not indicate an intention to inflict ‘imminent physical injury upon a specified victim or group of victims.'”

In 2018 Clark was convicted of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and two counts of using a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and received a sentence of 100 years in prison (with all but 90 years suspended).

The panel for the Court of Special Appeals was comprised of judges Timothy E. Meredith, Kevin F. Arthur, and Dan Friedman