June 26, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Premises Liability Statute Specifically Provides Immunity to Mental Health Providers for Violent Behavior of Patients

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Marcellot v. Exempla, Inc. on Thursday, November 8, 2012.

Personal Injury—CRCP 12(b)(5) Dismissal—CRS § 13-21-117 Immunity.

In this personal injury action, plaintiff Melanna Marcellot appealed the judgment of dismissal in favor of defendant Exempla, Inc., doing business as Exempla West Pines (Exempla), a mental health hospital. The judgment was affirmed.

Marcellot, a psychiatric nursing educator, visited Exempla with three of her students. Before entering the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, she asked the nursing staff whether there were any patients who presented a safety risk to her or her students. She was told there were none. However, shortly after entering the unit, a patient assaulted her. Exempla knew that the patient presented a special risk.

Marcellot sued Exempla, alleging it had been negligent in failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the patient from harming her and in failing to provide adequate staffing. She also asserted a claim under the Premises Liability Act. Exempla moved to dismiss the general negligence claims, contending that the premises liability statute provided the exclusive remedy for Marcellot. The court granted the motion and that determination was not appealed.

Exempla then moved to dismiss the premises liability claim, asserting immunity under CRS §13-21-117. The trial court agreed and dismissed the claim. Marcellot appealed. She argued that §13-21-117 covers affirmative duties to act, but does not protect a mental health care provider from liability where incorrect information is provided in response to a direct question. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The statute specifically states that a mental health hospital “shall not be liable for damages in any civil action for failure to warn or protect any person against a mental health patient’s violent behavior,” unless there has been a specific threat against that third party. The Court found this plain language broad and all-encompassing. It precludes liability for failure to warn, as well as failure to protect any person.

The Court also rejected Marcellot’s contention that §13-21-117 does not apply to inpatients. If that were the case, the General Assembly could have so stated. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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