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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Lawsuit Filed Against Psychiatrist Who Treated Batman Theater Killer

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Dr. Lynne Fenton and her employer, University of Colorado at Denver, are now facing the first civil suit to be filed against them since the horrific Batman theater shooting rampage last July. The lawsuit, filed last Monday, is the first to be filed although 14 other victims and family members have filed notices informing Dr. Fenton and the university that they intend to sue.

Dr. Fenton is a psychiatrist who treated James Holmes, the man accused of walking into an Aurora, Colorado theater showing The Dark Knight Rises and opening fire, killing 12 and wounding 58.

According to reports, Holmes had told Dr. Fenton that he had thought about perpetrating a mass killing. Fenton failed to take any action, and even rebuffed an offer by police to involuntarily commit Holmes for 72 hours following that statement.

As details continue to emerge from the July shooting, and in the wake of other heart-breaking rampage killings, questions have been raised about what could have been done to prevent this type of violence. Of course, threats of violence happen on a much smaller scale, too. Mental health professionals need to be prepared to intervene in certain situations.

In Michigan, if a patient communicates to a psychiatrist a threat of physical violence directed at a third party, the psychiatrist has a duty to act if the third party is reasonably identifiable and the patient has the apparent intent and ability to carry out the threat in the foreseeable future.

Seeking help for mental or emotional problems should not be frowned upon. Getting professional care for mental health is no different than going to a doctor for a physical injury. And like “regular doctors,” mental health professionals can be held legally responsible when they breach the standard of care and fail to justify the trust we place in them.