Justices OK case over psychiatrist’s duty to protect

Washington state teacher settles discrimination suit

The Washington Supreme Court says the family of a Spokane woman who was murdered with her son can pursue a lawsuit over whether the killer’s psychiatrist should have done more to protect the victims.

Rebecca Schiering and one of her sons, Phillip, were killed by her ex-fiance, Jan DeMeerleer, in 2010. DeMeerleer then committed suicide.

Schiering’s family sued the killer’s psychiatrist, Dr. Howard Ashby, and Spokane Psychiatric Clinic, saying more should have been done to protect them.

Ashby had treated DeMeerleer for about nine years, and during that time the patient had at times expressed suicidal and homicidal thoughts. But the clinic argued that he never communicated an actual threat against Schiering or anyone else, and so it had no duty to the victims.

In a 6-3 opinion Thursday, the Supreme Court held the lawsuit can go forward. The majority said mental health professionals must act with reasonable care to mitigate the dangerousness of psychiatric patients.