New York Court of Appeals to Decide Whether Substance Abuse Facility Owes Duty to Third-Parties When Releasing a Patient
In Oddo v Queens Village Committee for Mental Health for Jamaica Community Adolescent Program, Inc., 135 A.D.3d 211, 216 (1st Dep't 2015), the Appellate Division, First Department, held that a residential substance abuse treatment facility owed a duty of care to a third-party who was injured by the facility’s former patient after the patient was terminated from the facility’s program. In Oddo, the defendant facility participated in an alternative to incarceration program, and the patient was sent to the facility as an alternative to incarceration for charges stemming from allegations that he robbed a cab driver at gunpoint.
While the patient was at the facility he admitted to drinking alcohol and became aggressive towards the staff. The staff called the police and the patient was escorted off the facility premises. There was no evidence that the staff told the police that the patient was to be held in a secure facility so that parole authorities could be notified. The patient attacked the plaintiff and stabbed him in the shoulder a half hour after the patient was escorted off the premises.
In determining whether the facility owed a duty to the plaintiff, the Court held that the key factor was whether the facility had sufficient authority to control the actions of the patient. The Court held that the facility had sufficient control over the patient by virtue of his referral from a criminal court. Accordingly, the Court found questions of fact existed as to whether the facility was negligent for failing to tell the police that the patient must be held at a secured facility.
The dissent asserted that a private drug treatment facility does not have a duty to protect the general public from its discharged patients. The dissent argued that the facility was not a prison and it was entitled to discharge an aggressive patient. Further, it argued that the facility’s participation in an alternative to incarceration program did not create a duty to ensure that the general public was protected from any residents who were discharged or who left against clinical advice. Finally, the dissent said that even assuming the facility owed a duty, it was extinguished when the patient was turned over to the police.
Leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was granted. The appeal was argued before the Court of Appeals on January 10, 2017. Its decision should provide clarity on the obligations of a substance abuse facility with respect to the release of its patients into the general public. We will report on the decision of the Court of Appeals when it is released.
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