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UPMC argues judge should dismiss parts of Western Psych employee lawsuit

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 4:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania's “stringent” health care laws kept doctors from committing diagnosed schizophrenic John Shick to Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic against his will, a mental health expert said Tuesday.

Shick, 30, of Oakland entered the hospital on March 8, 2012, and opened fire, killing therapist Mike Schaab, 25, of Regent Square, and wounding receptionist Kathryn Leight, 66, of Glenshaw and three others before University of Pittsburgh police officers shot and killed him.

Attorneys representing UPMC filed preliminary objections on Monday asking Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick to toss out several parts of a lawsuit Leight filed — one of two against Shick's estate — which blames UPMC doctors for missing several opportunities to involuntarily commit Shick to a mental facility.

“In Pennsylvania, it's a lot harder to do that (commit someone) than in other states. A lot harder than it ought to be,” said Brian Stettin, policy director for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va. “You've got to show they've done something terrible in the past 30 days or they're likely to end up dead in the next 30 days. It forces people to wait around until they get worse.”

UPMC's attorneys said the lawsuit does not show that Shick — diagnosed as schizophrenic during involuntary commitments in New York and Oregon — made a “specific immediate threat of serious bodily injury” to physicians, nor that he was a “clear and present danger to himself or to others that would have justified an application for involuntary commitment.”

Leight referred calls to her attorney, Mark Homyak, who did not return calls.

In other states, physicians are able to argue more broadly how a person is going to meet a serious fate if not committed, Stettin said. Pennsylvania law requires speculation, “which is almost impossible,” he said.

“It just puts the treatment professional in a very difficult situation to say this is about to happen.”

In addition to reasons why Shick was not committed against his will, the university's response claims Leight's lawsuit doesn't provide facts that would “give rise to a duty on the part of University of Pittsburgh to have warned/protected Mrs. Leight from John Shick,” and the University of Pittsburgh — as landlord of Western Psych — “owed no duty to Mrs. Leight while she was on the premises and is not liable for injuries occurred.”

The response says Leight's claims should be covered under workers' compensation, not from damages sought in the lawsuit.

UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said that while the health care giant is “very sorry” for the injuries, “under the circumstances described in their lawsuits, the law is very clear that there is no basis to sue us for compensation in addition to medical expenses and wages for which we have compensated them.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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