SPOKANE, Wash. - The Washington Supreme Court said Thursday a lawsuit can move forward against a killer's former psychiatrist.
In 2010, police say Jan DeMeerleer killed his ex-fiancee, Rebecca Schiering, and her 9-year-old son, Phillip, when he broke into their home in the middle of the night. DeMeerleer also slashed the throat of Schiering's 17-year-old son, but he survived. A twin brother to Phillip wasn't harmed in the rampage.
Thursday, the Supreme Court said a lawsuit filed by Schiering's family against DeMeerleer's former psychiatrist can move forward.
"The Supreme Court reaffirmed prior law, which says a healthcare professional may be responsible to third parties where the healthcare professional's treatment of the patient may involve a potential risk to the third party," said Michael Riccelli, the attorney for Schiering's family.
Her family is suing Dr. Howard Ashby for unspecified damages. Ashby treated DeMeerleer for about ten years.
"Over that period of time, not only did he state to his psychiatrist that he had homicidal and suicidal thoughts, but on at least one occasion, his family, particularly his mother, wrote a letter to the psychiatrist stating Mr. DeMeerleer was homicidal," Riccelli said.
The suit also claims DeMeerleer was bi-polar and only treated medically. It claims Ashby failed to peform a risk evaluation to see how likely a patient is to carry out homicidal thoughts.
Schiering was known as a success story in Spokane. She recovered from a drug addiction to become a beloved mother and owner of The Reclothery, a clothing consignment store.
Now her surviving children, one of whom is autistic, are seeking compensation.
"Whatever compensation can be obtained, will be to help him and the other surviving son, who had a very traumatic situation and is trying to go to school and get his education done and get along with life," Riccelli said.
Ashby's firm tried to argue that healthcare professionals can only be heald responsible when a patient makes a threat against an actual subject, and DeMeerleer never expressed such a threat against Schiering. However, the Supreme Court voted six to three to allwo the case to move forward. A court date will be set when the local trial court receives paperwork from the Supreme Court.
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