In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, the medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins explore how psychiatric negligence and abuse cases work. This is a unique form of medical malpractice, as patients often see their complaints dismissed or never even reported. We are here to help patients and their families struggling with psychiatric malpractice.
Psychiatric treatment is a delicate practice between doctor and patient, guided by strict guidelines. Malpractice is as common in this field as any other area of medicine, though the consequences are often much more complex. Psychiatric malpractice legal claims often include:
• Improper diagnosis and/or treatment.
• Failure to prevent patient suicide
• Failure to warn about threats to others
All psychiatrists must conduct suicide risk assessments for patients that may be suicide risks. Factors taken into consideration include age, patient history, living standards, sexual orientation, and employment, among other things. If a doctor fails to conduct one of these assessments for an at-risk patient, and that patient harms themselves purposefully, the psychiatrist may be liable.
Similarly, if the psychiatrist conducts the assessment and determines the patient is at risk of suicide, the doctor must take all steps necessary to stop this from happening. Any failure to take appropriate steps may be considered negligence.
Courts have ruled that if a patient makes remarks about harming another person to their doctor, the doctor must warn this person of the potential threat. This is a difficult situation, of course, but if someone is seriously hurt or killed by a patient who expressed premeditated thoughts, the doctor may be held liable.
These cases become somewhat more complex when dangerous drugs are prescribed to patients. Many drugs meant to treat mental conditions have very severe side effects. If a patient is hurt or killed from one of these side effects, their lawsuit can be filed either against the drug manufacturer, or the prescribing physician, depending on the circumstances.
Take for example the 2014 lawsuit against the manufacturer of Paxil. A lawyer in Chicago was prescribed the antidepressant Paxil by his psychiatrist to help curb his anxiety and depression. He took the pills as prescribed for six days. On the sixth day, he committed suicide.
His widow consequently filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline, Paxil's manufacturer, and a generic drug manufacturer. She argues that Paxil's labelling was inadequate and misleading, and that the drug companies knew about the risk of suicide and chose to hide it from doctors and patients.
Paxil's labels have a Black Box warning stating that the risk of suicide does not extend beyond the age of 24. The widows argued that if she and her husband had been aware that the risk of suicide extended to older patients and knew about the warning signs, they would have taken immediate action to stop taking the medication.
In some cases, however, the psychiatrist can be sued for a patient's suicide. A high school coach in Syracuse, New York recently committed suicide after three years of taking antidepressants. His widow filed a lawsuit against his prescribing psychiatrist for negligent and low-quality care. The New York Supreme Court found his doctors negligent and held one liable for his death, awarding his widow $1.524 million.
More information on psychiatrist malpractice lawsuits can be found here.