September 11, 2013

162017_132140396847214_292624_nOn September 5, 2013, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland  (“Court of Special Appeals”) held that a Maryland hospital was entitled to statutory immunity from any liability when it decided not to involuntarily admit an individual so long as it acted in good faith and with reasonable grounds in deciding not to admit the patient.

The Underlying Facts

On April 20, 2009, a man was brought to the hospital by his mother because she was concerned about his mental state – he had suicidal thoughts, auditory and visual hallucinations, he believed that he was under a curse, he had obsessive behavior, headaches, trouble sleeping, and he generally exhibited unusual behavior.

He was examined at the hospital during which he was alert, verbal, and cooperative in discussing his symptoms and he admitted that he was having auditory and visual hallucinations and suicidal symptoms (he told the health care providers that he was communicating with “the Lord,” that his ex-girlfriend had placed a curse on him, and that he suffered blindness when he looked at a text message sent from her while in the emergency room). The health care providers also saw that the man had cuts on the inside of his arms but the man refused to discuss the possibility of inpatient care.

The health care providers noted that he “appear[ed] to be minimizing any problems going on with him” but they decided not to involuntarily admit the man after evaluating him. He was diagnosed with insomnia, fatigue, and bizarre behavior and was prescribed Ambien. His mother was advised to remove the firearms from the residence, to follow up with a clinic the next day, and to return to the hospital if the symptoms became worse. The man was told to “return here immediately if you feel you are going to harm yourself or anyone else.”

After leaving the hospital, the man and his mother went to a restaurant. After leaving the restaurant, the man asked his mother to pull over and he jumped out of their vehicle. He was observed by the police later that day who noted that he was acting strangely but not criminally. Shortly before midnight, the man broke into a house and the resident called the police. When the police arrived, the man was in the front yard wielding a knife. He told the police officers, “shoot me, fucking shoot me, somebody’s going to die tonight” and held the knife to his throat. He further said, “I want you to shoot me, I want to die.”

The police officers told the man to drop the knife and surrender himself but the man refused and charged at the police officers. The police officers shot the man but he persisted in his attack. The man was shot 15 times and he died from his gunshot wounds.

The Maryland Medical Malpractice Claim

The man’s family brought a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and its physician who subsequently filed a motion to dismiss claiming that they were entitled to immunity from liability and further alleging that the man’s death was so remote in time and place so as not to be reasonably foreseeable as a matter of law. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion and the man’s family appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

The Court of Special Appeals stated in its opinion, “In our view, the purpose of the immunity statute at issue in this case [Health-General Article, § 10-618(a)] is to protect the discretionary nature of the evaluation so that the medical professionals can be guided by their medical judgment and not the fear of liability. To do so, the statute must protect those who decide to involuntarily commit a patient as well as those who decide not to involuntarily commit a patient. As the circuit court pointed out in this case, “[i]t makes no sense for the legislature to grant immunity when someone is involuntarily committed but to deny it when he is not. The clear legislative intent is to allow health care providers to exercise sound medical judgment in making such decisions without being unduly influenced by the threat of litigation.” We believe this adequately captures the purpose of the immunity statute. The statute protects health care providers from any and all claims related to their decision to admit or not to admit. For these reasons, we conclude the court correctly interpreted the immunity statute. The statute protects health care providers from any and all claims related to their decision to admit or not to admit … when health care providers are acting in accordance with the involuntary admission statute and a plaintiff files suit over their decision to admit or not to admit a patient, the plaintiff must allege something more than negligence or risk dismissal for failure to state a claim … [T]he complaint does not even allege, let alone provide facts to support the failure of the health care providers to act in good faith and with reasonable grounds.”

Source Gineene Williams, et al. v. Peninsula Regional Medical Center, et al., No. 0284.

If you or a family member may have been injured as a result of the negligent failure to admit to the hospital, you should promptly seek to speak with a local medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you.

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