California Court of Appeal Holds Government Not Liable for Injuries Suffered by Escaping Psychiatric Patient

Recently, the California Court of Appeal reviewed a judgment in a lawsuit involving government liability for an allegedly escaping mental health patient. In this case, the plaintiff suffered injuries after he jumped out the window of his room on the psychiatric floor of a Los Angeles County hospital.  The appellate court focused on whether the government was immune from liability, based on the patient’s attempted escape.

Ricardo Manzano had been placed in a single patient room on the sixth floor of an inpatient psychiatric unit at Olive View, a County of Los Angeles Hospital with a licensed psychiatric unit. In the early morning during his stay at Olive View, Mr. Manzano ripped out the Plexiglass covering his window, broke the window, and jumped or fell through the window, suffering serious injuries.

Through his guardian ad litem, Mr. Manzano brought a  lawsuit against Olive View, the County of Los Angeles, and the County of Los Angeles Department of Mental Health for a dangerous condition of public property, public employee negligence giving rise to the vicarious liability of a public entity, and professional negligence, among other related causes of action.

The defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that they were immune from liability under sections 856.2 and 854.8.  Section 856.2 (a)(1) holds public entities immune from liability for injuries caused by those escaping confinement for mental illness.  Section 854.8(a)(2) states a public entity is not liable for injuries to an inpatient of a mental institution.

The defendants alleged that Mr. Manzano had been escaping when he fell, and they also provided a declaration stating that the Plexiglass barrier and windows in Mr. Manzano’s room had met the requirements of the applicable building codes.   In response, Mr. Manzano alleged he had not been trying to escape.

In its analysis, the court stated that on a motion for summary judgment, a moving defendant meets their burden by showing an essential element of a cause of action cannot be established, or there is a complete defense to the cause of action.  Then, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show a triable issue of material fact exists as to the cause of action or the defense.

The rule of law states that a public entity is immune from liability for damages from an injury caused by a person confined for a mental illness.  Here, Olive View was a public entity, and Mr. Manzano was confined for a mental illness. On appeal, the issue was whether there was a dispute of material fact regarding whether Mr. Manzano was escaping when he fell from the window.

Mr. Manzano contended that the defendants violated the California Code of Regulations provision on the inadequate modification of a window in a psychiatric unit, negating their immunity.  But the appellate court stated the immunity of section 856.2 cannot be negated by negligence or violations associated with the facility.

The appellate court stated that Mr. Manzano had been a confined inpatient at Olive View when he removed the Plexiglass covering and broke the window, exiting his room through the open window.  The court stated that he was therefore an escaping person under section 856.2.  The defendants had met their burden of establishing a complete defense, immunity under section 856.2, and Mr. Manzano failed to present a triable issue of material fact regarding that defense.

Mr. Manzano also argued that the defendants were liable for violating California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 70583, requiring windows in a psychiatric unit to be modified to prevent patients from escaping through the window.  But the court stated the rule that a plaintiff must carry the burden of proving a violation of mandated minimum standards in order to show a breach giving rise to liability under Government Code section 855.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.

The California personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide experienced representation to victims throughout the state. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries resulting from an accident, the attorneys at Sharifi Firm can help you seek compensation for your injuries. Contact us at 1-866-422-7222 for a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds State Owed no Duty to Protect Child From Falling Tree at Campsite, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 4, 2016,

California Court Holds Government Not Liable for Fatality Caused by Alleged Dangerous Condition of Public Property Due to Lack of Control, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 18, 2016

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