Defense Digest, Vol. 30, No. 2, June 2024

Can Felons Pursue Damages Against Their Providers for Their Criminal Conduct? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Says No

Key Points:

  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently evaluated the no felony conviction recovery rule. 
  • No felony conviction recovery rule bars medical malpractice and indemnification claims brought against murderer’s medical providers.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court evaluated the no felony conviction recovery rule in the context of a quadruple murderer. In DiNardo v. Kohler, et al., 304 A.3d 1187 (Pa. 2023), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the no felony conviction recovery rule barred medical malpractice and indemnification claims brought against murderer’s medical providers. 

Cosmo DiNardo, who suffers from various mental health illnesses and conditions, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder, confessed to killing four individuals and pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. Subsequently, DiNardo, through an agent, filed a complaint against his treating psychiatrist and mental health care providers, alleging that his criminal conduct was the result of his psychiatrist’s grossly negligent treatment. DiNardo sought compensatory damages, indemnification for judgments levied against him by his victims’ families, and counsel fees. As to compensatory damages, DiNardo sought recovery for “severe emotional distress and physical pain” for: (1) living with the knowledge that he murdered four individuals; (2) knowing his family’s businesses suffered irreparable harm due to his actions; (3) knowing his family will bear the costs of litigation and judgement due to the murders; and (4) knowing he will spend the rest of his life in state prison. 

Mr. DiNardo’s providers filed preliminary objections to his complaint, seeking to have the complaint dismissed as a whole. The trial court sustained the preliminary objections as to DiNardo’s request for indemnification and counsel fees, but overruled the preliminary objections as to DiNardo’s medical malpractice claims. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling as to DiNardo’s request for indemnification and counsel fees, reversed the trial court’s ruling on his medical malpractice claims, and dismissed the complaint in its entirety. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal with respect to the following issue: “Does the ‘no felony conviction recovery’ rule preclude the award of any civil damages or relief where [DiNardo] alleges that [he] would not benefit or profit from his own criminal acts, but rather would be compensated for alleged malpractice relating to the crimes for which he pleaded guilty to?” 

The no felony conviction recovery rule is a common law principle, that a person should not be permitted to benefit from their own wrongdoing. The Pennsylvania Supreme started with the well-established premise that psychiatrists and psychologist are subject to liability for malpractice or professional negligence, including negligence related to treatment or lack thereof. However, the court then acknowledged that case law “firmly establishes” that persons convicted of serious crimes must bear the losses stemming from their criminal actions and public policy will not permit the responsibility for these losses to be shifted to others. Highlighting decisions from outside the Commonwealth, the court noted that other state courts routinely bar plaintiffs from seeking damages sustained as a result of their own criminal conduct, and courts are “virtually unanimous” in rejecting a patient’s attempt to shift responsibility for their criminal actions onto their psychiatrist or other healthcare providers.

There are several public policies which are the basis for the no felony conviction recovery rule. The bedrock public policy is that injuries that arise from volitional criminal conduct should not provide a basis for a recovery in a civil action based in tort. The Supreme Court stated that allowing such a civil action would impact the criminal justice system and the public’s perception thereof, as the goal of finality and allocation of responsibility would be undercut by allowing such a civil action. The court also recognized the potential detrimental effects on the practice of psychiatric medicine, stating: 

Allowing the recovery of damages from a mental healthcare provider for a patient’s criminal conduct could undermine trust between the patient and psychiatrist; encourage psychiatrists to refuse to treat, or avoid treating, certain patients; spur institutionalization and excessive medication out of concern for financial liability should patients be released from care and commit crimes; and would not respect the difficulty mental healthcare professionals face in predicting whether an individual poses a risk of violence.

Finally, the court acknowledged that such civil actions would have a financial impact by potentially increasing health care costs if medical providers “became “guarantors” of the financial costs of the crimes committed by their patients.

With all of these public policies considerations in mind, the court held that the no felony conviction recovery rule bars an individual from maintaining a tort action for damages that are sustained as the direct result of his volitional serious criminal acts and prohibits the person from recovering for losses which flowed from such acts. Regardless of whether the damages sought are considered profit, compensation, or a benefit, a criminal is barred from recovering damages that flowed from his criminal conduct. 

This ruling creates another avenue for seeking dismissal of a plaintiff’s claims against a medical provider, particularly mental health professionals, at the preliminary objection stage of a proceeding. Further, the court’s consideration of the various public policy considerations may lead to the creation of additional novel arguments based on the same or similar public policy considerations, which may provide another avenue to seek the dismissal of a health care provider. 

*Nicole works in our Scranton, Pennsylvania, office. 


Defense Digest, Vol. 30, No. 2, June 2024, is prepared by Marshall Dennehey to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2024 Marshall Dennehey. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact