The Connecticut Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s complaint. It held that the estate of a woman, who was murdered by her son during an approved home visit from a residential mental health care facility, couldn’t sue for medical malpractice.
The Office of the Claims Commissioner signed off on allowing Jill Levin, administrator of the estate of Margaret Rohner, to sue Connecticut, alleging medical malpractice.
Rohner was killed by her son, Robert Rankin. Her estate argued that the hospital where he lived, River Valley Services, should have been aware of Rankin’s volatility and emotional state when it approved a visit for him to see his mother during the 2013 Christmas season. The lawsuit said the facility failed to warn Rohner that her son posed a threat to her safety.
According to the Hartford Courant, Rankin was driven by homicidal hallucinations and religion-based delusions when he beat and stabbed his mother to death. Rankin, the Courant reported, was acquitted of the murder by reason of insanity and was committed to a state hospital for 60 years. He was 23 years old at the time of the murder, while his mother was 45.
By a 5-0 ruling on Monday, the Connecticut Supreme Court held, among other things, that because the lawsuit was limited to a medical malpractice claim, it didn’t hold up because Connecticut does not recognize medical malpractice claims brought by nonpatient third parties.
“The present case is exactly the sort of non-patient medical malpractice case that Jarmie v. Troncale forbids,” Justice Maria Araujo Kahn wrote. The Jarmie case states that Connecticut does not permit medical malpractice actions to be brought by a nonpatient against a health care provider.
Attorneys for Levin then argued that Jarmie should not be part of their case because they are alleging specific “medical negligence” more than medical malpractice. That negligence, plaintiff argued, resulted from the care, treatment and custody of Rankin and the failure of the facility to warn his mother of his dangerous propensities.
Kahn wrote that “either the plaintiff’s claim is one of medical malpractice by a non-patient, in which case it is barred by Jarmie, or it is a negligence claim that the claims commissioner did not authorize, in which case the trial court would not have subject matter jurisdiction. It fails either way.”
The case was argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court on Nov. 16, 2017. Representing the plaintiffs is Steven Seligman of Hartford’s Katz and Seligman. Seligman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Attorneys for the state included Assistant Attorneys General Nicole Demers, Lindsey Barbato and Michael Bullers. All requests for comment must go through Office of the Connecticut Attorney General spokeswoman Jaclyn Severance, who declined to comment.