The attorneys at Miller & Zois understand how families are sometimes forced to rely upon psychiatrists and psychologists to provide competent medical care. They are usually treating the mind and not the body. But the consequences can still be as life or death as a surgeon in the ER. If a psychiatric professional provides treatment to a patient that negligently causes harm, a psychiatric medical malpractice lawsuit for damages may be appropriate.
If you or someone in your family has suffered from a psychiatrist or psychologist mistake, call 800-553-8082 and get a free online consultation.Hospital Psychiatry
Patients admitted to a hospital for psychological problems are vulnerable. They have rights. They have the right to safety and security, sometimes from themselves. They also have the right to steer clear of physical or sexual abuse from the staff or other patients. They are also entitled to be treated in such a way as to give them the best chance getting better.
Suicide in a hospital setting is often the subject of malpractice lawsuits. Because hospitals largely have a duty to make sure they are protecting their patients from themselves.
A related problem is an early discharge. It is not as it was 30 years ago. Hospitals and mental institutions push to get people out the door. This leads to people who are at risk to themselves and others being pushed out the door without getting the treatment they need.Medication Errors
There is no question that medications can help many psychiatric conditions. But they can also make matters worse.
Medication mistakes are most common with overcrowded healthcare providers. The medical team is overwhelmed by the volume of medications to distribute, psychiatrists carry large caseloads of patients, and staffing shortages mean that temporary or contract employees are distributing medications in facilities and to patients that they do not know. This is a recipe for disaster.
One issue is tardive dyskinesia (or akathisia) which a common side effect of many anxiety/depression medications. In the last 15 years, we have learned that this side effect can drive a patient to suicide. Doctors have to be careful when prescribing any drug that they are giving the right dosage and are considering and monitoring all of the potential side effects.
Another psychiatrist medication error that leads to malpractice lawsuits occurs when switching a patient from an opioid to methadone. The standard of care requires the doctor to know the total daily dose of the opioid and to use conversion tables to know the equivalent daily dose of methadone. The prescribing doctor must take into consideration what is known as “incomplete cross-tolerance.” This means that when switching from one opioid to another, there should be a total daily dose reduction from 15% to 50% or more, especially when switching to methadone. Failure to get this right can cause an overdose that can lead to a brain injury or death.
There are also a good number of lithium toxicity malpractice cases. Lithium is excreted almost entirely by the kidneys and has an elimination half-life of 18 to 24 hours. However, because lithium is renally cleared, individuals with decreased renal clearance need lower dosages. It is a deviation from the standard of care to administer such drugs when the patient is exhibiting signs of toxicity regardless of the laboratory test results.Sexual Abuse
Patients with mental illness are vulnerable to everything. Sexual abuse is high on the list of potential risks. Who abuses these patients? Often, it is the hospital or a doctor or his employees who prey on the victim. In other cases, the facility fails to monitor patients abusing each other. Both are avoidable tragedies.
- Example marriage counselor negligence lawsuit
- Inmate suicide lawsuit
- Involuntary commitment (and a crazy host of other things) lawsuit
- An interesting case where the lawsuit alleges lithium overdose as the cause of catastrophic brain injuries.
Not many of these cases go to trial. Maybe more than any other malpractice case, there are "Oh, they clearly screwed up and this case will be settled" or "This case is ridiculous and frivolous" and will never even make it to a jury.
These are all plaintiffs' verdicts and favorable settlements. These are useful but limited tools in evaluating the monetary value of psychiatry related medical malpractice cases. There is no question: each case is different.
- New York, 2018: $1.4 million settlement. Psychiatrist prescribed perphenazine for a patient's schizophrenia. The patient develops tardive dyskinesia which is known risk of perphenazine Tardive dyskinesia can be an awful disorder that causes involuntary and repetitive body movements. Plaintiff alleges he does not have schizophrenia but instead has anxiety/depression disorder.
- Connecticut, 2014: $8,008,500 Verdict. Wrongful death suit is filed by the executor on behalf of an estate and minor children after a 45-year-old man killed his wife, then himself. The deceased presented to his physician with complaints of persistent insomnia, anxiety, and sadness. He was prescribed medication for sleep problems, as well as anti-depressants for their sleep-inducing qualities, as opposed to their anti-depressant qualities. The Defendant failed to diagnose the decedent with depression and did not refer him to any mental health professional for further evaluation or treatment. Two months later, he killed his wife and committed suicide. The Plaintiff contended that Defendant’s negligence was the sole cause of the decedent’s suicide; that terminal insomnia that the patient was suffering was a red flag for depression and warranted action on the part of the physician. Defendants denied all allegations and maintained that there was no deviation from acceptable standards of care. Defendants contended that the decedent did not give any indication that he was suicidal. A jury found the Defendants to be negligent in failing to conduct an adequate psychiatric evaluation and awarded $8,008,500 in damages.
- Oklahoma, 2013: $100,000 Settlement. A 64-year-old man presents to an inpatient psychiatric facility operated by Defendant, stating he was suicidal. An attendant checked his belongings but failed to remove a drawstring from a pair of shorts. He was ordered to be placed on suicide precaution with 15-minute monitoring. A treating doctor subsequently ordered that the suicide precautions be discontinued, despite his remaining depressed, withdrawn, and anxious. Several days later, he hanged himself using the drawstring. a Lawsuit was filed alleging that the Defendant was vicariously liable for its employee’s failure to implement and continue appropriate precautions. The parties reached a settlement in the amount of $100,000.
- Maryland, 2002: $404,109 Verdict. Plaintiff files a wrongful death claim after her daughter commits suicide at a psychiatric facility, run by Defendant, State of Maryland. The decedent, a 24-year-old nurse, admitted herself to a hospital for treatment of depression, attempted suicide, and drug use. She voluntarily transferred to a psychiatric facility run by the Defendant. While at the center, she was upset following a telephone call, but allowed to return to her room, unsupervised. They removed the sash from her bathrobe, provided by the facility, tied it to a fixed bar in her bathroom, and hanged herself. The bar had been left in the bathroom when the unit was converted from an office to a patient ward, more than a year earlier. It was alleged that the Defendant had been put on notice two months earlier that the fixed bar posed a threat for patient suicide. It was argued that the Defendant was negligent in providing bathrobe sashes to suicidal patients. It was further argued that employees failed to properly observe the decedent when they were aware that she was in distress.
- North Carolina, 2001: $8,100,000 Verdict. Suit is filed after the suicide of a depressed patient. Plaintiff’s decedent presented to defendant psychiatrist for the treatment of depression. While under the defendant’s psychiatrist’s care, the decedent committed suicide. The Plaintiff alleged that Defendants failed to hospitalize decedent after the decedent’s family had warned that he was exhibiting suicidal tendencies. Defendants denied that the decedent had been suicidal, and denied any liability. Obviously, the jury saw it differently and gave this whopping verdict.
If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of a mistake that a doctor or other health care provider made, call us at 800-553-8082 or click here for a free consultation.