The November 21, 2014 decision of the Court of Appeals of Maryland (“Court of Appeals”), Maryland’s highest appellate court, held that the Maryland General Assembly intended to provide immunity to health care providers when they evaluate patients but decide not to involuntarily admit them. The Court of Appeals stated that the plain and unambiguous language of the relevant Maryland statutes (HG § 10-618 and CJP § 5-623) extends immunity to health care institutions and their agents who evaluate an individual as part of the involuntary admission process, and that “[c]loaking health care providers in immunity both when they decide in favor of and when they decide against admittance amounts to sound public policy, consistent with the General Assembly’s intent.”
HG § 10-618
HG § 10-618 states, in part: (a) A person who applies for involuntary admission of an individual shall have the immunity from liability described under § 5-623(b) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.
CJP § 5-623
CJP § 5-623 states, in part: (b) A person who in good faith and with reasonable grounds applies for involuntary admission of an individual is not civilly or criminally liable for making the application under Title 10, Subtitle 6, Part III of the Health-General Article.
Other paragraphs of HG § 10-618 and CJP § 5-623 extend immunity to health care institutions and their agents who evaluate an individual as part of the involuntary admission process.
In discussing the history of the Maryland statute that grants immunity to those individuals who apply for the involuntary admission of another, the Court of Appeals pointed to the legislative concern that individuals may be wrongfully admitted and to the societal goal of preventing excessive institutionalization and protecting the civil rights of patients, as evidenced by the General Assembly mandating a multi-step process before an individual’s involuntary admission, including a detailed list of admission limitations.
The Court of Appeals stated that if the General Assembly’s intention was to protect individuals from undue deprivation of liberty, it would make little sense to give health care providers an incentive to err on the side of involuntary admittance in order to enjoy statutory immunity and avoid liability – the statutory scheme protects the discretion of health care providers tasked with deciding whether to involuntarily admit an individual.
The Court of Appeals quoted the intermediate appellate court’s reasoning in this regard: Understanding the deep concern for patient rights and stringent requirements for involuntary admittance, it would lead to an absurd result if we were to interpret the immunity provision to only apply when someone is actually admitted. In one breath the statute would discourage admitting individuals before a careful evaluation, but in the next breath provide immunity only when the decision is to admit. Out of fear of liability, mental health professionals might err on the side of admittance, instead of properly exercising their discretion and following the stringent requirements before taking away someone’s liberty.
The Court of Appeals stated that the immunity conferred by HG § 10-618 and CJP § 5-623 protects the discretion of health care providers, which in turn safeguards the liberties of those subject to evaluation and possible involuntary admission. The Court of Appeals held that the immunity provided and described in HG § 10-618 and CJP § 5-623 extends to health care providers who evaluate an individual and decide in good faith not to involuntarily admit him – the plain language of the text, the General Assembly’s intent, and sound public policy compel this interpretation.
Source Gineene Williams, et al. v. Penninsula Regional Medical Center, et al., No. 18, September Term, 2014.
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