Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Says Serial Killer Cannot Sue Psychiatrist for Medical Malpractice

author headshot standing in dark suit with arms crossedBy: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Hartley Brooks, Law Clerk, The Health Law Firm

On November 22, 2023, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania unanimously decided that a serial killer cannot sue his psychiatrist for gross negligence because the action is barred by the Pennsylvania state law that prohibits criminals from benefitting from their crimes.

The Murderer’s Mental Health History.

In February 2016, Cosmo DiNardo was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. Three months later, DiNardo was in an ATV accident in which he sustained head injuries. His mother reported that he began acting bizarrely a month after the accident. Additionally, DiNardo was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He was prescribed strong antidepressants and antipsychotics.

DiNardo also had a violent history. During his institutionalizations, he allegedly attacked his mother and father on multiple occasions, as well as hospital staff members. He was also allegedly banned from his high school campus and university due to behavioral issues. It is also reported that doctors reported that DiNardo had homicidal and suicidal tendencies.

The Murders and Mr. DiNardo’s Confession.

On July 5, 2017, Cosmo DiNardo lured a 19-year-old to his family’s farm and shot and killed him. The next night, he and his cousin lured three more young men to the property and killed them as well. DiNardo and his accomplice disposed of the bodies by burning and burying them on the property. DiNardo was arrested days later after police located the grave site on the farm. He confessed to the murders.

In May 2018, DiNardo pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. He is serving four consecutive life sentences.

The Complaint Against the Psychiatrist.

DiNardo’s mother filed a complaint on DiNardo’s behalf that claimed his criminal conduct was the result of grossly negligent psychiatric treatment. In early 2017, the treating psychiatrist was alleged to have deemed DiNardo to be in remission from his bipolar disorder and reduced his medication dosage.

On July 6, 2017, the day after he murdered his first victim, DiNardo had an appointment with the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist continued to believe that DiNardo was not a risk to himself or others and advised him to cease his medication intake. That night, he murdered three more people.

The complaint claimed that if it were not for the psychiatrist’s grossly negligent failure to assess DiNardo’s risk for violence, then he would not have been involved in the murders. The complaint sought compensation for the emotional distress and pain DiNardo endured because he murdered four people and will live the rest of his life in prison.

Pennsylvania’s No Felony Conviction Recovery Rule.

The no felony conviction recovery rule is a Pennsylvania state law that prohibits convicted felons from profiting or benefitting from their criminal conduct. This law barred DiNardo’s mother’s complaint against the psychiatrist.

DiNardo pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. He did not plead insanity or guilty but was mentally ill. He pleaded guilty and thus accepted full responsibility as an active participant in the murders. Therefore, he must bear the losses sustained from his criminal actions.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania unanimously decided that the no felony conviction recovery rule barred the complaint because the compensation sought would benefit DiNardo for his criminal conduct.

Although the outcome of this case turned on an idiosyncrasy in Pennsylvania law, it is doubtful that the case would have ever made it beyond the summary judgment stage anyway. There are no facts showing hope the psychiatrist would have had any way of knowing facts other than what the patient reported to her. There was no evidence that the parents had attempted to take any action to have DiNardo involuntarily confined or treated for mental illness, filed for guardianship, attended sessions with the psychiatrist, or anything else. Perhaps they should have.

This modern trend of blaming others for our shortcomings (and those of our children, needs to stop).

Psychiatrists are not miracle workers. They cannot read people’s minds. They cannot predict the future.

Furthermore, it is common knowledge (thanks in part to the HBO series “The Sopranos” and its storyline of Tony Soprano’s sessions with his psychiatrist, that there have been journal articles reporting that psychopaths and serial killers may use sessions with psychiatrists as a tool to sharpen their skills at deception and learn how to avoid getting caught and convicted.) (I don’t usually quote fictitious medical studies articles from fictitious TV series and movies, but actor Peter Bogdanovich, playing psychiatrist Elliot Kupferberg, was pretty convincing on this issue.)

The precedential case on the liability of psychiatrists for misdiagnosing murderers is, of course, Tarasoff vs. Board of Regents of the University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976). This case is necessary for reading and educating all psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This representation includes psychiatrists, mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, medical students and interns, and other health care providers.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in civil litigation in state and federal courts. We represent physicians and other health professionals in cases before medical boards, before state licensing agencies, and in National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) disputes. We represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaint investigations and in Department of Health and in board licensing investigations in other states investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Cipriano, Ralph. “The Untold Tale of Cosmo DiNardo’s Descent Into Murder and Madness.” Philadelphia City Life. (25 February 2020) https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/02/25/cosmo-dinardo/

Dinardo v. Kohler No. J-8A-B-2023 (E.D. Pa. November 22, 2023)

D’Annunzio, P.J.. “Pa. Murderer Can’t Sue Doctors For Psychiatric Malpractice.” Law360. (27 November 2023) https://www.law360.com/health/articles/1769646?nl_pk=0cbd4c0b-c6c8-416a-9e67-b4affa63b102&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=health&utm_content=2023-11-28&read_main=1&nlsidx=0&nlaidx=13

Henry, Tanya Albert. “He killed 4 men. Now he seeks compensation from his care team.” American Medical Association. (9 December 2022) https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/sustainability/he-killed-4-men-now-he-seeks-compensation-his-care-team

About the Authors: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Hartley Brooks is a law clerk with The Health Law Firm. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

Attorney Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm is always looking for qualified attorneys interested in health law practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a member of The Florida Bar and are interested, forward a cover letter and your resume to: [email protected] or fax to: (407) 331-3030.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2024 George F. Indest III, The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any way in any medium without the written permission of the copyright owner. The author of this work reserves the right to have his name associated with any use or publication of this work or any part of it.