GORDON & SILBER OBTAINS DEFENSE VERDICT FOR A TREATING PSYCHIATRIST AND HOSPITAL ALLEGED TO HAVE PREMATURELY DISCHARGED SUICIDAL PATIENT WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE FOUR DAYS AFTER DISCHARGE.
Type of Case: Psychiatric malpractice. Alleged negligent treatment and discharge of suicidal patient leading to plaintiff’s death.
Venue: New York Supreme Court, Westchester County
Background Facts: In this psychiatric malpractice action, the plaintiff presented to our assured hospital after making three separate attempts to take his own life. The admitting psychiatrist involuntarily committed him. Plaintiff’s wife alleged that he received no treatment or therapy over the next 48 hours, but was nevertheless discharged after an inadequate work up by our client, the treating psychiatrist, who had met him for the first time on the day of discharge. Four days after being discharged, the plaintiff committed suicide, at home, after ingesting pills and alcohol.
Special Problems: The decedent’s wife testified that our clients discharged her husband without any consultation with her, and that she was personally opposed to the discharge. There also evidence that decedent had not received any substantial treatment during his 48 hours at the hospital. Plaintiff’s expert testified that our client committed a departure by failing to keep the him in the hospital in order to allow his medications to become effective so as to further treat and evaluate him. Finally, the nurse who gave the plaintiff a test for depression could not recall his contacts with the plaintiff and had difficulty describing how he performed the depression scale.
Our Strategy: We argued that our clients had no choice but to release the decedent, given that at the time of discharge, he no longer satisfied the standard for involuntary commitment – “an imminent danger to himself or others”, where the decedent was himself seeking discharge. We highlighted to the jury our client, who came across as extremely knowledgeable and dedicated and who testified she thoroughly evaluated the decedent prior to discharging him. We also highlighted that she set up an out-patient clinic appointment the next day and placed him on appropriate medications. We called the social worker who met with the decedent prior to discharge and who contradicted the wife’s claim she was opposed to the discharge and that she was not consulted with. The social worker also confirmed that the decedent’s condition had significantly improved. Finally, we called an expert with impeccable credentials who testified that our client had no choice but to discharge the decedent.
Result: Despite plaintiff’s counsel requesting $1,750,000 in damages from the jury, the jury returned an unanimous defense verdict after only 2 ½ hours of deliberation.