The lawsuit, filed in Denver on Monday, is the first shooting-related suit against psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton and her employer, the University of Colorado at Denver, according to college spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery. Eleven notices of claim have been filed against the school, she told the Los Angeles Times in a telephone interview.
Holmes, 25, a former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado, is scheduled to be arraigned March 12 on 166 criminal charges in connection with the July 20 attack on the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed and as many as 70 were wounded.
One of those killed was Jonathan Blunk, 26. His widow, Chantel, brought the suit, alleging that Fenton knew Holmes was dangerous and had a duty to protect the public from him. Blunk, a veteran and the father of two children, was separated from his wife when he was killed.
Fenton has been silent on her relationship with Holmes because of doctor-patient confidentiality, but she has said in court that she treated Holmes more than a month before the shooting and that her professional relationship with him ended in mid-June.
Various media outlets have reported that Fenton passed on her concerns to a campus threat assessment team. But other reports indicate that she rejected offers to confine Holmes for 72 hours after the student told her he fantasized about killing people.
“Fenton was presented with the opportunity to use such reasonable care when the Colorado University Police offered to apprehend James Holmes on a psychiatric hold,” according to the lawsuit. “Fenton breached her duty to use reasonable care.”
The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death against Fenton and the school.
“The university has nothing but sympathy for the victims, but in our initial review of this case the university believes the lawsuit is not well founded legally or factually,” Montgomery said.
The lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages.
Lawyers for Holmes have said that they believe he is mentally ill and are expected to use an insanity defense in the case.