The Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on December 31, 2018 “that while a plaintiff may maintain a cause of action where the parties treating or examining a patient under the MHPA [Mental Health Procedures Act] have acted with gross negligence, the MHPA only applies to all involuntary inpatient or outpatient treatment, and voluntary inpatient treatment of mentally ill persons … [t]hus, the immunity and cause of action provisions under section 7114 of the MHPA do not apply to voluntary outpatient treatment.”
In the case the Pennsylvania Appellate Court was deciding, the Pennsylvania medical malpractice plaintiff was injured as a result of a shooting incident on March 8, 2012 during which a patient killed one person and injured several others, including the plaintiff, at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (“WPIC”). The plaintiff and her husband alleged that the patient had brought with him loaded Makarov and Beretta 9mm semiautomatic handguns and extra ammunition he had purchased a year previously in New Mexico, and in the unguarded Western Psych lobby, he shot and injured the plaintiff at the unprotected receptionist’s desk, and shot several other people, killing one of them, before he was himself shot and killed by an armed Pitt police officer stationed nearby, but not in or assigned to Western Psych, who responded to reports of the incident.
The plaintiffs alleged that University of Pittsburgh Physicians (“UPP”) acted with gross negligence under the MHPA in its treatment decision regarding the patient.
The immunity provision of the MHPA (Section 7114(a)) provides as follows:
“In the absence of willful misconduct or gross negligence, a county administrator, a director of a facility, a physician, a peace officer or any other authorized person who participates in a decision that a person be examined or treated under this act, or that a person be discharged, or placed under partial hospitalization, outpatient care or leave of absence, or that the restraint upon such person be otherwise reduced, or a county administrator or other authorized person who denies an application for voluntary treatment or for involuntary emergency examination and treatment, shall not be civilly or criminally liable for such decision or for any of its consequences.”
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court stated that the plaintiffs do not allege that UPP was negligent in its examination or treatment of the patient while he was an involuntary inpatient or outpatient, or a voluntary inpatient at any facility. Further, the plaintiffs do not raise any allegations regarding a decision to discharge the patient to outpatient care. Instead, the plaintiffs attempt to expand the scope of the MHPA by asserting that treatment decisions on a voluntary outpatient basis established a duty on UPP to protect the plaintiff from the patient. However, because the physicians never started the process for seeking an emergency examination, no decision was ever made as to whether the patient should be involuntarily examined and receive involuntary treatment.
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court stated: “[w]hile we sympathize with the [plaintiffs’] argument, this Court cannot conclude that the mere thought or consideration of initiating an involuntary examination during voluntary outpatient treatment falls within the explicit scope of the MHPA … Thus, the [plaintiffs] cannot sustain a cause of action under the MHPA.”
Source Leight v. University of Pittsburgh Physicians, 2018 PA Super 359.
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