Thursday, February 14, 2019

Scope of Civil Liability Under the Mental Health Procedures Act

In the case of Leight v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Physicians, No. 2018 Pa. Super. 359 (Pa. Super. Dec. 31, 2018 Bender, P.J.E., Lazarus, J., and Musmanno, J.) (Op. by Musmanno, J.), the Plaintiffs appealed from a dismissal of their personal injury claims under the Mental Health Procedures Act against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other physicians who had treated a mentally ill person that had injured the Plaintiff in a shooting incident.  

The Plaintiffs filed suit against the medical providers alleging a failure to warn and negligence of their treatment of the shooter.   The Plaintiffs alleged that, although the shooter had increasingly violent encounters and had been treated for both schizophrenia and medication non-compliance, the medical providers allegedly failed to file commitment papers and had, instead, terminated their relationship with that mentally ill patient.  
 The Defendants filed Preliminary Objections asserting that there was no duty to warn or to protect the Plaintiff from the shooter under the Mental Health Procedures Act.  

The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the claims based upon a ruling that the Mental Health Procedures Act did not apply to voluntary outpatient treatment.  

More specifically, the Superior Court noted that the physicians’ mere consideration, during voluntary outpatient treatment of a patient, of  possibly initiating an involuntary examination of a suspected mentally ill person was insufficient to trigger the scope and provisions of the Mental Health Procedures Act.  

The court further specified that a plain reading of the Act showed that it only applied to involuntary treatment and voluntary inpatient treatment of mental ill persons.   Accordingly, the court held that the cause of action provision of the Act did not apply to the voluntary outpatient treatment that the shooter had received from the physicians in this case.   

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the decision may click this LINK. 

Source: “Digests of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Jan. 22, 2019).  

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