Court Denies Petition for Review of Fourth DCA Decision Regarding Mental Health Care Provider Liability in Mass School Shootings

-Summary by Tatiana Hernandez

On May 27, 2020, the Fourth DCA issued an opinion on Andrew Pollack v. Nikolas Cruz, which
declined to impose liability on the mental health care providers of Nikolas Cruz. Nikolas Cruz was
involved in a mass school shooting that killed seventeen people and wounded seventeen others at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The question of law addressed by the Court was whether
liability should be imposed on mental health care providers who provided out-patient services to a
patient who was later involved in a mass school shooting.

Petitioners argue that the mental health providers for Nikolas Cruz should be held liable for
failing to recommend against the School Board’s decision to mainstream Cruz into the public-school
system and failing to protect the students from harm. According to the Petitioners, the mental health
care facility provided services to Cruz for several years prior to the mass school shooting and was aware
that he was a “dangerous, demented person” and “he would do something terrible.”

The Fourth DCA declined to impose liability based on the Undertaker’s Doctrine due to the
problem of foreseeability and duty. The District Court’s conclusion hinges on the rationale that Florida
law establishes that a criminal attack on third parties by a mental health patient is not within the
foreseeable zone of risk created by the mental health provider. Furthermore, Florida law does not
recognize a duty of mental health providers to warn third parties that a patient may be dangerous.

This case landed on the Supreme Court docket for discretionary review based on the Petitioner’s
argument that the decision made by the Fourth DCA conflicted with decisions made by other District
Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court on the same question of law. The Supreme Court of Florida
has declined to accept jurisdiction over the case and has ordered that the petition for review be denied.