Thursday, April 16, 2015

Judge Minora of Lackawanna County Addresses Liability of Mental Health Professionals for Harm Caused by Mentally Unstable Patients

In the case of Rarrick v. Silbert, No. 2002 CV 4951 (C.P. Lacka. Co. March 24, 2015 Minora, J.), Judge Carmen D. Minora denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the defense in a medical malpractice case against a psychiatrist and another defendant entity in a case involving allegations that the defendant(s) failed to take appropriate steps to avoid a situation with an emotional unstable individual from escalating into a hostage-taking event for the Plaintiff and her family members that had to be defused by police intervention.

The defense argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because Pennsylvania law does not recognize a duty by mental health providers to protect unidentified third parties from the actions of mental health patients.  The defense also asserted that the Plaintiff had failed to offer evidence of gross negligence as allegedly required by the Mental Health Procedures Act.

The Plaintiffs countered with an argument that the Defendants stood in a special relationship with the Plaintiff that required the Defendants to take action to protect the Plaintiff and imposed upon the Defendants a professional duty to warn the Plaintiff of potential danger from her allegedly mentally unstable husband.  The Plaintiffs also asserted that there were issues of fact on the gross negligence question that prevented the entry of summary judgment.

Judge Carmen D. Minora
Lackawanna County
After reviewing the applicable law, Judge Minora agreed that, under the Restatement of Torts, there was no duty to control the conduct of third persons unless a special relationship existed.  However, there was case law noted by the court that a mental health professional may have a duty to protect by warning others of potential danger in extremely limited circumstances involving specific and immediate threats of serious bodily injury to a specifically identified individual or a readily identifiable individual.

Here, while there was evidence that the family members of the allegedly mentally unstable individual contacted the psychiatrist leading up to the incident, there was no threat voiced by the allegedly mentally unstable person to the psychiatrist found in the record.  Accordingly, Judge Minora found that the Plaintiff's argument failed to support a finding of a creation of a duty owed by the psychiatrist to the Plaintiff in this regard.

However, Judge Minora found that issues of fact on the gross negligence allegations of liability under the Mental Health Procedures Act question, prevented the entry of summary judgment in this matter.

Judge Minora also address issues with respect to the production of expert reports 1042.28.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision by Judge Minora in the Rarrick case, may click this LINK.

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