Why Psychological Records Were Key in McLaughlin v. McDonald’s Corp. – Guest Post

Psychological Records

In this blog post, we’ll break down the key points of the McLaughlin v. McDonald’s Corp. case. This case involves a tragic event, legal arguments about negligence, and the role of mental health records. We’ll explain everything in simple terms so you can understand what happened and why it matters.

Shannon, the victim in this case, experienced a horrifying event on June 16, 1997. She parked her car in a McDonald’s parking lot to pick up her fiancé, who worked there. While checking a tire, a man named Lowell Roberts grabbed her from behind, abducted her at knife point, and took her to a nearby hotel property where he repeatedly assaulted her.

Shannon decided to sue McDonald’s Corp., the franchisee that operated the restaurant, and the owner of the nearby hotel. She claimed that these companies were negligent because they did not properly light or patrol their properties, making the area unsafe and contributing to her assault.

During the case, the lawyers for McDonald’s and the other companies wanted to access Lowell Roberts’ psychological records. They believed that if they could show Roberts had a mental disorder, it would support their argument that his actions were unpredictable and unpreventable, meaning they should not be held responsible for what happened to Shannon.

The Court’s Decision on Mental Health Records

The court had to decide whether to allow access to Roberts’ psychological records. Under Massachusetts law, these records are usually private and protected. The law says that a patient’s mental health information cannot be shared unless certain exceptions apply, like if the patient is a danger to themselves or others, or if the patient has put their mental health condition at issue in a legal case.

In this case, the court found that none of these exceptions applied. Roberts had not given permission to share his records, and the court decided that his privacy should be protected. Therefore, the court denied the request to access his mental health records.

Other Motions and Decisions

The companies also asked for more time to appoint an expert to review Roberts’ mental health records, but since the court denied access to those records, this request became moot (meaning it no longer mattered).

Additionally, the companies wanted to strike (remove) certain statements from Shannon’s opposition papers, arguing that they were irrelevant or misstated the evidence. The court agreed to strike a few specific statements but denied most of these requests, stating that statements of limited relevance wouldn’t create a genuine issue of material fact.

Impact on Future Cases

The decision in McLaughlin v. McDonald’s Corp. sets a significant precedent for how courts handle the intersection of mental health privacy and legal responsibility. By upholding the privacy of Lowell Roberts’ psychological records, the court reinforced the principle that mental health information is highly protected, even in the context of serious criminal behavior. This ruling can influence future cases where defendants or plaintiffs may seek access to private mental health records to support their legal arguments. McDonald’s injury attorneys and legal scholars will likely reference this case when debating the limits of privacy protections versus the need for comprehensive evidence in negligence claims.

Moreover, the case underscores the importance of property owners and businesses maintaining adequate safety measures. The ruling serves as a reminder that failure to ensure proper lighting and security can lead to legal implications, even if the perpetrator’s actions are deemed unpredictable. Future lawsuits involving similar circumstances will likely consider the McLaughlin case when assessing the responsibilities of property owners in preventing criminal activities.

Lessons for Businesses and Property Owners

The McLaughlin case offers several critical lessons for businesses and property owners regarding their duty of care to ensure the safety of their premises. One of the primary takeaways is the importance of proactive measures in maintaining a secure environment. Adequate lighting, regular security patrols, and surveillance systems can significantly reduce the risk of criminal activities and protect both customers and employees.

Businesses should also conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential safety hazards and address them promptly. This includes evaluating parking lots, entryways, and other areas where individuals may be vulnerable to attacks. Implementing these measures not only helps prevent incidents but also provides a stronger defense in the event of a lawsuit, as it demonstrates a commitment to safety and due diligence.

Additionally, the case highlights the need for clear policies and training for employees on how to handle safety concerns and emergencies. Employees should be aware of the procedures for reporting suspicious activities and ensuring that customers and colleagues are safe. By fostering a culture of safety and vigilance, businesses can better protect themselves from liability and create a more secure environment for everyone.

In summary, the McLaughlin case serves as a crucial reminder of the legal and ethical responsibilities that businesses and property owners have in maintaining safe premises. By taking proactive steps to enhance security and safety, they can mitigate risks and uphold their duty of care to the public.


The McLaughlin v. McDonald’s Corp. case is a poignant example of the complex interplay between legal principles, individual rights, and societal responsibilities. At its core, the case grapples with the tragic consequences of a violent crime and the subsequent quest for justice and accountability. Shannon McLaughlin’s harrowing experience underscores the critical importance of safety measures in public and private spaces, and the legal responsibilities that businesses and property owners bear in ensuring such safety.

The court’s decision to protect Lowell Roberts’ psychological records highlights the stringent privacy protections afforded under Massachusetts law. This ruling serves as a reaffirmation of the principle that mental health information is sacrosanct, and access to such records is tightly controlled, even in the context of serious criminal behavior. By denying the request for these records, the court underscored the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of mental health information, except under specific, legally defined circumstances.

This case also sets a significant legal precedent for future negligence claims involving third-party criminal acts. It illustrates the challenges plaintiffs face in proving that a business or property owner’s lack of safety measures directly contributed to an incident. The court’s rulings on various motions, including the denial of access to psychological records and the striking of certain statements, demonstrate the meticulous scrutiny applied in such cases to balance the need for evidence with the protection of individual rights.

In conclusion, McLaughlin v. McDonald’s Corp. is a multifaceted case that sheds light on critical issues of property safety, negligence, and mental health privacy. It underscores the legal obligations of businesses to maintain secure premises and the robust protections in place for individual privacy rights. By understanding the legal principles and lessons derived from this case, businesses, legal professionals, and the public can better navigate the complexities of the justice system, ensuring a balance between safety measures and the preservation of privacy rights. This case ultimately contributes to a broader understanding of how legal frameworks operate to protect individuals while holding entities accountable for their responsibilities.