Pennsylvania Supreme Court Relieves Mental Health Professionals From Liability Under Certain Circumstances

In its opinion filed on December 22, 2020, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Western District (“Pennsylvania Supreme Court”) held: “we find that physicians are not liable under the MHPA [Mental Health Procedure Act (“MHPA”), 50 P.S. §§ 7101-7503] for considering, but not formalizing the prerequisites for, an involuntary emergency examination.”

On March 8, 2012, John F. Shick, a 30-year-old adult, living independently, killed one person and injured several others at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (“WPIC”) in Pittsburgh. The injured persons included WPIC receptionist, Kathryn Leight. Subsequently, Ms. Leight and her husband John Leight filed a complaint against various defendants.

The MHPA sought to assure the availability of voluntary and involuntary treatment where the need is great and its absence could result in serious harm to the mentally ill person or to others. The voluntary treatment of outpatients falls outside the scope of the MHPA.

The MHPA provides limited immunity for certain individuals providing care to the mentally ill. Specifically, 50 P.S. § 7114 protects from civil and criminal liability those individuals and institutions that provide treatment to mentally ill patients, and, thus, promotes the statutory goal of ensuring such treatment remains available. This immunity protection, however, does not insulate individuals from liability for acts of willful misconduct or gross negligence. 50 P.S. § 7114.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated, “In determining whether Appellants have stated a cause of action under the MHPA, we begin with Section 103, which sets forth the scope of the Act. 50 P.S. § 7103. Under the plain and unambiguous language of Section 103, the MHPA applies only to inpatients and involuntary outpatients: “This act establishes rights and procedures for all involuntary treatment of mentally ill persons, whether inpatient or outpatient, and for all voluntary inpatient treatment of mentally ill persons.” Id. Appellants do not allege that Appellees’ physicians were negligent in their actual examination or treatment of Shick on an involuntary basis or a voluntary inpatient basis. As there is no suggestion that Appellees’ physicians treated Shick on anything but a voluntary outpatient basis, their treatment actions clearly fall outside the coverage of the MHPA.”

“Section 114 protects from civil and criminal liability those parties that examine and provide treatment to mentally ill patients under the MHPA. Furthermore, by implication, Section 114 creates a cause of action upon a showing of willful misconduct or gross negligence against an individual for, inter alia, participating in a decision that a person be examined or treated under the MHPA.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded: “We hold, based upon the clear and unambiguous language contained in this constellation of statutory provisions, that “participat[ing] in a decision that a person be examined” under the MHPA is achieved for purposes of Section 114 only after one of the prerequisites set forth in Section 302 for an involuntary emergency examination is satisfied [i.e., (1) certification of a physician; (2) warrant issued by the county administrator authorizing such examination; or (3) application by a physician or other authorized person who has personally observed actions indicating a need for an emergency application]. The requirements of Section 302 are exclusive, clear, and unequivocal. Physicians who never invoke a necessary requirement for involuntary emergency examination are not, for purposes of Section 114, participating in a decision that a person be examined. It is only when a physician files the required documentation for involuntary emergency examination that he becomes a participant in the decision-making process under the Act … we find that Appellees’ physicians never satisfied the prerequisites for the involuntary emergency examination process under Section 302 for Shick. That being the case, the physicians did not take part in a decision that Shick be examined or treated under Section 114, and, therefore, they were not engaged in an involuntary commitment decision. We reiterate that mere thoughts, consideration, or steps short of the mandated Section 302 prerequisites for initiating an involuntary emergency examination lie outside of a Section 114 cause of action. As Appellees and their physicians never participated in a “decision that a person be examined or treated under the [MHPA],” we are compelled to conclude that Section 114 is inapplicable and Appellants cause of action was rightfully dismissed.”

Source Leight v. University of Pittsburgh Physicians, J-21-2020.

If you or a loved one were harmed as a result of bad or negligent mental health care in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should find a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state, who may investigate your negligent mental health care claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a mental health malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click on the “Contact Us Now” tab to the right, visit our website, or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to be connected with mental health claim lawyers in your state who may help you.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 10th, 2021 at 5:26 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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