On February 28, 2002, Mae Belle Lane was waiting with her son-in-law in St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center's emergency room. While she waited, a teenaged boy ("D.G.") arrived with his mother. Without warning, the teenager rose, walked to Lane, and began punching her. Lane's son-in-law jumped up and hit D.G., knocking him to the floor. The attack stopped.
Lane sued the hospital for negligence, claiming that hospital staff should have protected her from the attack. The medical center requested summary judgment--a hearing based on the facts of a case without a trial. The St. Joseph Superior Court granted the summary judgment. Lane appealed the decision.
The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision based on the fact that the attack was unforeseeable, even to the victim, who testified that she was "surprised" when D.G. assaulted her. (One judge issued a dissenting opinion, arguing that the foreseeability issue should be decided by a jury.)
However, the court noted that under Indiana law, businesses such as hospitals owe their patrons a duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping their premises safe. The court also pointed out that emergency rooms can be a particular concern. "There can be little dispute that a hospital's emergency room can be the scene of violent and criminal behavior ... in some cases, the violence spills into the emergency room itself and measures must be taken to control the situation."
The security situation at the hospital was not addressed by the court because the basis of the case was not whether security was adequate but whether the attack on Lane was foreseeable. (Mae Belle Lane v. St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center, Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 71A05-0310-CV-525, 2004)