Hospital & ER Physician May Be Liable For Discharge of Violent Mentally Ill Patient Who Killed His Sister, Aunt & Uncle
Last week, a Federal Court Judge in Albany refused to dismiss three wrongful death actions against a hospital, an emergency room physician, nurses and a hospital security guard involved in the care of a violent, paranoid and psychotic patient who killed his sister, aunt and uncle hours after he was released from a hospital in Utica, New York.
On January 6, 2015, Utica police responded to the home of Paul where he resided with his aunt (adoptive mother), uncle and sister. Paul had dragged his uncle onto the porch after attacking him in their home. Uncle Michael told the police that Paul had beaten the family dog to death and then attacked him for complaining about it. While Uncle Michael explained what had happened to the police, Paul renewed his attack on his uncle in the presence of the police. Both responding cops noted that Paul was acting "strange", " bizarre" and seemed confused and disoriented. The family members told the police that Paul was mentally ill and may have stopped taking his medication.
The police arrested Paul and brought him (involuntarily) to the hospital specifically requesting a mental health evaluation. The police noted that they had never seen the ER as busy as that day. Most importantly, the police advised the medical staff that police should be notified prior to the release of Paul should the hospital decide not to admit Paul. The ER physician examined Paul and issued a continuing "restraint order" which resulted in the physical restraint of Paul. The ER physician arranged a CT scan of Paul's head and various blood tests which were essentially normal. Nurses notes described Paul as psychotic, paranoid, angry and suffering from auditory hallucinations. Paul reported to a nurse that demons had told him to kill the family dog to protect someone else. Within 3 hours of his arrival, the ER physician allegedly ordered Paul's discharge despite never arranging the mental health evaluation. Worse the hospital staff discharged Paul without notifying the police as specifically requested.
Paul went home and within a few hours killed his aunt and adoptive mother, uncle and sister. Police reported that the bodies were badly mutilated. The Federal Court Judge found that a jury trial will be necessary to determine the claims of both negligence and medical malpractice. Generally, hospital's and physician's have no duty or legal obligation to the family member of a patient. However, there is an exception when the medical professional has sufficient knowledge of the danger posed by the patient and has the ability to control or detain the patient. Moreover, the hospital staff neglected to report Paul's release to the Utica Police department as specifically requested.