Munstermann v. Alegent Health-Immanuel Medical Center

716 N.W.2d 73 (2006)

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Munstermann v. Alegent Health-Immanuel Medical Center

Nebraska Supreme Court
716 N.W.2d 73 (2006)

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Facts

Marty Nuzum was treated by Dr. Hudson Hsieh (defendant), a psychiatrist at Alegent Health-Immanuel Medical Center (Alegent) (defendant), for depression and suicidal ideations. Nuzum was checked for, but did not exhibit, homicidal tendencies. One of Hsieh’s treatment notes stated that Nuzum reported having problems with his girlfriend and that Nuzum was thinking of hurting her. Five days after being discharged, Nuzum murdered his girlfriend, Jodi Sue Rowe, when she went to Nuzum’s apartment to get a set of car keys. The representative of Rowe’s estate, Carol Munstermann (plaintiff), sued Alegent and Hsieh for wrongful death. Munstermann argued that Alegent and Hsieh had failed to protect or warn Rowe of Nuzum’s threat. At trial, Hsieh testified that he believed Nuzum’s statement about hurting Rowe referred to emotional injury. Munstermann’s expert witness testified that, in his opinion, Nuzum’s statement likely referred to physical violence, but the witness could not speak to whether Hsieh believed Nuzum to be making a threat. Alegent and Hsieh filed a motion for a directed verdict, arguing that Munstermann failed to present sufficient evidence that Nuzum had communicated a serious threat giving rise to a duty to warn Rowe. The trial court denied the motion. The jury was unable to reach a verdict, and the trial court declared a mistrial. Alegent and Hsieh filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the trial court denied. Alegent and Hsieh appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gerrard, J.)

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