Possible Liability for the Aurora Shootings
posted by Gerard Magliocca
In the aftermath of the murders in the Colorado movie theater, the inevitable lawsuits are getting underway. The exceptional nature of the act may make it hard to hold the theater negligent for lack of security (though people versed in Colorado tort law may feel otherwise), but the more interesting question is the potential liability of the university where the alleged killer was a student.
There is a claim that the suspect was seeing a school psychiatrist, and that she took some steps to alert university officials that this patient posed a danger to others. There is authority in at least one well-known case from California (Tarasoff) for the proposition that a university psychiatrist (and, by extension, the university) can be held liable for failing to warn the intended victim of a crime when the doctor has ample reason to think that her patient might kill that person.
There are two lines of inquiry that seem relevant here. One is whether the doctor’s duty lapsed when the alleged killer dropped out of school (if he actually did). The second crucial question is what exactly alarmed the doctor about the patient. If it was a general threat, then her failure to warn the police may not matter. If it was more specific (say, involving, a fantasy about killing people at a movie theater), then that might pose a liability problem. But again, I’m not familiar with the Colorado cases on this issue.