Physician's Request to Conceal Similar Misconduct With 12 Other Patient's Granted by Court of Appeals
On June 30, 2016 New York's highest level appellate court-the Court of Appeals granted a new trial to a psychiatrist found liable by a jury for the suicide death of his patient. The defendant psychiatrist admitted that he departed from accepted medical standards of care by prescribing the antidepressant drug paxil for over 10 years to the decedent without seeing or examining him. Prior to trial the defendant psychiatrist filed a motion to prevent the decedent's family from showing to the jury a Consent Agreement he had entered into with the Office of Professional Medical Conduct ("OPMC"). OPMC had brought charges against the psychiatrist alleging that he had departed from accepted standards of care "by prescribing medications to 13 patients over several years, (including the plaintiff's decedent) without adequately monitoring and evaluating them, and often without any face-to-face visits". The defendant agreed not to contest the charges of negligence as to 12 of the 13 patient's, specifically excluding the decedent. (Obviously because of the circumstances of the decedent's death and ensuing lawsuit.)
The Court ruled that the jury should not have been informed of the OPMC Consent Agreement finding: it was not probative evidence of his negligence with respect to the decedent, especially because the defendant had conceded he negligently treated the decedent; that it was "unduly prejudicial because none of the uncontested [OPMC] charges involved decedent or addressed the proper treatment for a patient with a long history of depression, anxiety and OCD." Mazella v Beals, Court of Appeals of New York. Interestingly, the intermediate appellate court refused to grant the defendant a new trial finding that any error in admitting the OPMC Consent Agreement into evidence was harmless error given the doctor's admission of negligent treatment. Presumably, the Court of Appeals believed that informing the jury about the psychiatrist's negligent treatment of a dozen other patient's was error and that it tainted the jury's finding that the negligent treatment of the decedent contributed to his death.