An 18-weeks pregnant woman who worked in a Maine psychiatric center was violently attacked with a pen by a mentally ill patient with a history of violence.
Worker suffered severe pain and disfigurement, was forced to undergo surgery to remove part of the pen from her right hand and now suffers chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
Typically, injuries like these are covered under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Workers’ compensation is a form of no-fault benefits provided to injured workers (or families of those killed) when that injury or death occurred in the course and scope of employment. Workers’ compensation benefits come with a provision of exclusive remedy, meaning injured workers don’t have the right to sue their employer, but their medical expenses and a portion of lost wages are available. Compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress and punitive damages are not paid by workers’ compensation. So what this plaintiff wants to do is make the state – not the private psychiatric center – liable for the injuries she suffered at work.
A trial court rejected these claims and dismissed the lawsuit – Hill-Spotswood v. Mahew et al. – earlier this year. Plaintiff has now filed an appeal in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
She alleges in her federal lawsuit the state was aware of the danger that existed at the psychiatric hospital owed a duty to protect workers from violent criminal and yet failed to take action. She was 26 at the time of the attack.
The now-49-year-old assailant had been placed at the center in early 2006, after he was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental diseases for aggravated criminal mischief when he allegedly broke into a neighbor’s home two years earlier and shot the homeowner in the chest. He reportedly suffered from a traumatic brain injury in an auto accident when he was 15. At his criminal trial following this incident, it was revealed he was allegedly attracted to the younger female worker and wanted to marry her, but knew she was already married. He had reasoned if he killed her and brought her back to life, she would be released from her ties with her husband.
But the worker didn’t know any of this. What she did know was that she did not feel comfortable around him. About a week before the attack, she told her supervisor she did not feel safe, and asked to be reassigned. The supervisor indicated he would take action, but nothing was done.
Seconds before the attack, plaintiff said she had just supervised the man on an outing and he approached her from behind, apologized to her and began beating her. He then stabbed her numerous times with a pen before other staffers intervened.
The attack prompted the state to bring in corrections officers to monitor these patients. It also resulted in an audit that cost the state millions of dollars when federal authorities objected to the heightened security level.
Plaintiff in turn sued the state health department director, as well as the assistant director of the psychiatric hospital and the hospital’s superintendent. She alleged supervisors and the state were aware of her attacker’s violent history, yet did nothing to protect her.
However, the U.S. District Court judge granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding the state-created danger theory was inapplicable, there was no supervisory liability and the Maine Department of Health was not responsible under the municipal liability theory.
Oral arguments in the appeal have been heard, and it could be weeks or even months before the appellate court justices rule.
If you are the victim of a Bangor work injury, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Injured Riverview mental health worker appeals lawsuit dismissal, Sept. 21, 2015, By Betty Adams, CentralMaine.com
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