A Michigan hospital can be sued for releasing a man who killed his estranged wife with an ax 10 days later, a federal appeals court ruled.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates a lawsuit filed by the estate of Marie Moses Irons against Providence Hospital.
The panel cited a federal law that requires hospitals to stabilize patients if an emergency condition exists, though it couldn’t find any precedent for allowing a non-patient who alleges harm to sue.
Christopher Howard, now 42, was physically ill, making threats and showing signs of mental illness when Irons took him to Providence’s emergency room in Southfield in December 2002.
Four days later, a doctor recommended that Howard be transferred to a unit for the mentally ill. The transfer, however, never occurred. Howard eventually was discharged, with another doctor saying he didn’t need to go to the psychiatric unit.
Irons, 41, was killed while she slept at her home in Southfield, 10 days after Howard’s release. She had two cuts to her neck. The couple’s 2-year-old son was found unhurt just inches away.
Howard is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.
In fighting the lawsuit, Providence said Irons’ estate had no standing to sue. It also claimed that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor law did not apply because Howard was screened and did not have an emergency condition.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled in favor of the hospital in 2007, a decision the appeals court overturned. Providence could seek a review by the full 6th Circuit court, though reviews are rarely granted.
The “evidence still raises a dispute of fact with respect to whether Howard had an emergency condition on the day of his release and what the hospital’s doctors believed when they released him,” the judges said.
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