The Utah Supreme Court has reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Logan police officer against a therapy clinic, claiming a therapist should have told him that a mentally troubled client was armed with a gun.
Officer mark Robinson and another officer were called to the Mount Logan Clinic on Oct. 4, 2002, to transport a suicidal patient to the behavioral health unit at Logan Regional Hospital.
While on the phone to dispatch, therapist Charlotte Harris was asked if the patient was armed. Harris said that he was not. But it wasn't until Robinson and his partner were actually in the room with the patient that they realized the man had a gun. During a struggle Robinson was shot in the foot.
Later, Robinson learned that Harris had several reasons to believe that her patient could be armed, including the fact that Robinson had a criminal history that included use of a firearm and domestic violence. There was a previous incident at the patient's home in which he waived waved a gun in front of his wife and children and threatened to kill himself.
The man also was known to sometimes keep a gun in his truck, and at the time of the incident said he needed to go to his truck. When asked by Harris if he had a weapon that day, the man refused to deny he was carrying a gun, saying "maybe I do, maybe I don't."
On Friday, justices said under Utah law therapists have no duty to report non-specific threats to police. Threats towards specific people should be reported, but since the suicidal man did not threaten police specifically, Harris had no legal duty. However, justices said as a citizen, Harris had a common-law duty.
"Once Ms. Harris undertook the act by answering the questions of the police dispatcher, she had an obligation to do so nonnegligently," Justice Matthew Durrant wrote in the unanimous opinion. "Under both the statute and the common law, Ms. Harris was under no duty to warn Officer Robinson and would not have been liable had she failed to do so. Nevertheless, a duty arose when she replied to the police dispatcher's question, 'he doesn't have any weapons or anything like that?' with an unequivocal 'no.' "
The supreme court has ordered the reversal of a district court's ruling which threw the suit out. While the justices said Harris had a common-law obligation, they reserved judgment on whether her actions were legally reasonable.During oral arguments in the case last December, Robinson's attorney argued that was a decision for a jury to make.