Alleged assailant dismissed from case against Baton Rouge General Medical Center

By Charmaine Little | Nov 12, 2018

After a mentally impaired patient was fatally beaten, the State of Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit determined on Oct. 25 that the man who allegedly assaulted him should legally be dismissed from the personal injury lawsuit.

The appeals court affirmed the decision of the 119th Judicial District In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge that granted a peremptory exception raising the objection of prescription that defendant Christian Zeno filed, which ultimately dismissed him from the mother of Jerry Lee Shepherd’s case against him.

Ridder Williams Crocker filed the lawsuit on behalf of her late son, Shepherd, against Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City and its staff including the Behavioral Health Unit. Crocker sued after her son was admitted into the hospital after he experienced audible and visual hallucinations. Shepherd’s sister took him to the emergency room and instructed the staff to contact her and provided her information before she left. 

While Shepherd was ordered to get a psychiatric evaluation, he instead was discharged after only getting an evaluation from a social worker, who authorized the release. Because the hospital never contacted his next of kin, he roamed the streets until he ended at Zeno's girlfriends home, more than 20 hours after being discharged from the hospital. 

He tried to get into Zeno’s girlfriend’s car (presumably to go to sleep) when Zeno came out and assaulted him with a wrench. Shepherd died the next day from closed-head injuries. 

Crocker sued and the trial court granted the physicians summary judgment. Zeno’s peremptory exception that raised the objections of prescription and no cause of action also got him dismissed from the case, and Crocker appealed.

While Crocker sued the hospital in a timely fashion, her lawsuit against Zeno didn’t happen until roughly two years after the incident. Zeno pointed out the statute of limitations had run out. Crocker argued that because she sued the hospital, the organization and Zeno were joint tortfeasors (implying their negligence was a single act that caused Shepherd’s death), so the lawsuit against Zeno should be timely as well. The appeals court disagreed and said Crocker didn’t sufficiently prove Zeno and the hospital were joint tortfeasors. It pointed out the hospital’s negligence and Zeno’s actions didn’t happen at the same time. In fact, both incidents are completely independent of each other. “We find no basis in law for imposing joint or solidary liability on Mr. Zeno,” the appeals court determined.

While Judges William Crain and Guy Holdridge authored the opinion, Judge J. Michael McDonald dissented.

He said, “I think there is sufficient evidence to find that BRGMC and Mr. Zeno were joint tortfeasors.” He also didn’t agree with the idea that the qualification that both incidents would have to be “contemporaneously” meant that the negligence had to occur at the same time. He pointed out the hospital failed Shepherd when it didn’t take advantage of the many opportunities it had to protect him, such as call his relative when he was ready to be discharged, which resulted in him going to Zeno unintentionally. McDonald said he would have reversed the order that dismissed Zeno from the case.

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