Jamie Hill-Spotswood wants an appeals court to overturn a lower court ruling that a Riverview Psychiatric Center patient and not the state should be held responsible for injuries she suffered while on the job. She said the state knew of the dangers at the psychiatric hospital, yet did nothing to protect workers who care for violent criminals.

Hill-Spotswood, of Augusta, was represented at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals by attorney Michael Waxman, who wants the state to take responsibility for the injuries inflicted by Mark P. Murphy on March 16, 2013.

Murphy, now 49, was convicted of aggravated assault for attacking Hill-Spotswood and stabbing her in the hand with a pen. The attack occurred at the state forensic hospital in Augusta where Murphy had been placed after being found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect at a break-in in a neighbor’s home in York County in November 2004.

At oral arguments last week in Boston, one judge questioned Waxman about available state remedies.

“Workers’ compensation gives you your lost wages and your medicals; it does not compensate you for pain and suffering, punitive damages and emotional distress,” Waxman responded, adding that there was “nothing else to compensate for what will be lifelong, chronic, post-traumatic stress disorder and the emotional harm that flows from that.”

The state, through Assistant Attorney General Christopher Taub, urged the appeals panel to uphold the lower court’s dismissal.

Taub referred the judges to the 1992 ruling in Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Texas, in particular. “The U.S. Supreme Court held government entities don’t have a (federal) constitutional obligation to provide a safe workplace to their employees,” he said. “They certainly have an obligation under local and state laws.”

Witnesses testified at Murphy’s October 2013 trial in Kennebec County Superior Court that he apologized to Hill-Spotswood immediately before attacking her and afterward flashed the middle finger at other hospital members who checked on him after he was sedated. Murphy was later sent to the Maine State Prison.

Murphy’s attack prompted state officials initially to bring in corrections officers to monitor patients and triggered an audit that cost the state millions in federal funding when federal authorities objected to the new security measures.

Hill-Spotswood, now 28, testified at that trial that she screamed for help that day as Murphy beat her.

“I curled in a fetal position and stuck my hands on top of my head, covering my face,” she said on the witness stand.

Another staff member and another patient stepped in to pull Murphy off and rescue her.

Hill-Spotswood, who was 18 weeks pregnant at the time, underwent two surgical procedures to remove the penpoint that was left embedded in her hand as a result of Murphy’s attack.

Waxman filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor against Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services; Roland Pushard, then assistant director of nursing at Riverview; and Mary Louise McEwen, then superintendent of Riverview.

Waxman charged, among other things, that the state did not take measures to protect Hill-Spotswood and others from Murphy, who had a history of violence.

According to the complaint, less than a week prior to the attack, Hill-Spotswood approached Pushard, told him that she was pregnant and that she felt unsafe among some patients, and named Murphy in particular.

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss in an order issued Jan. 29. The defendants had argued that the state-created danger theory did not apply, that there was no supervisory liability and that the department and the commissioner could not be held liable under a municipal liability theory. The appeal followed.

The appeals court issues written rulings that can come weeks after oral arguments.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]ntralmaine.com

Twitter: @betadams

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