Treatment provider’s duty of care to third parties

Oddo v. Queens Vill. Comm., 21 N.Y.S.3d 53 (N.Y. App. Div. 2015)

Duty of care to third party who was attacked by person terminated from residential substance abuse program

Background: On July 17, 2010, Sean Velentzas, a nonparty to the current action, stabbed plaintiff Anthony Oddo in the shoulder. Until shortly before the stabbing, Velentzas had been a patient in a residential drug treatment facility operated by Queens Village Committee for Mental Health for Jamaica Community Adolescent Program, Inc. (“Queens Village”). Oddo brought an action against Queens Village. The facility moved for summary judgment, and the Bronx County Supreme Court denied the motion. The facility then appealed.

Holdings: The Supreme Court, Appellate Division found that the facility owed a duty of care to third parties against whom a discharged resident committed a violent act. Additionally it held that whether or not the facility properly discharged its duty of care to the third party victim was a material fact issue precluding summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Court noted that, although the common law does not generally impose a duty to control the conduct of third persons, liability for the negligent acts of third persons can arise when “the defendant has the authority to control the actions” of the third person. Because New York has no bright line rule concerning whether mental health care providers owe a duty of care to the general public, courts are to examine the issue on a case-by-case basis. The Appellate Division found that Queens Village failed to carry the initial burden of establishing that it owed no duty of care to the plaintiff as a matter of law. Because the record presented an issue of material fact (whether a duty of care was owed by Queens Village), summary judgment was precluded.

Notable Points:

Facility’s recognition of duty to general public: Although Queens Village did not intend to release Velentzas into the general public, the Court also notes that they did not “advise the police that Velentzas should be taken to Faith Mission or held” in custody. The Court used the admission that Queens Village did not intend to release Velentzas into the community as evidence of the facility’s recognition that it owed some duty to the general public.

Whether the treatment facility had sufficient authority to control the actions of the patient: The Appellate Division found there to be “no question” that Queens Village had sufficient authority to control Velentzas’s actions. Key facts in this inquiry were that (1) residents were not free to leave the facility without an escort; and (2) residents who left against clinical advice would be dismissed and returned to the criminal justice system.

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 34, Issue 4