What is a Hospital’s Duty of Care to a Mental Health Patient?

We recently finished a wrongful death suit against a Mental Hospital who failed to see any of the warning signs of a suicide risk in one of their patients. The hospital had numerous opportunities to intervene and all of the warning signs were there.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know that if a patient is exhibiting the following traits that you should probably keep a close watch on them. If a patient:

was feeling helpless;
was hearing voices;
stabbed himself in the ear to make the voices stop;
was cheeking his medication.
was walking the streets all night;
bought a gun;
was feeling hopeless;
brought a weapon to the group home;

Hospitals and Mental Health Centers have a legal obligation called the duty of care which requires that they provide reasonable care to the individual. When they do not provide the type of care that similar healthcare providers would have to their patients then they have committed medical negligence or medical malpractice.

Hospitals have been held in several cases to have a duty that is suited to the needs of the patient.

East Mississippi is required by statute to provide patients with mental health care and treatment in accord with contemporary professional standards. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-21-102(6) (Rev. 2005). Adhering to the mandates of this statute is not discretionary, and, therefore, it is ministerial. Dr. Hiatt testified that contemporary professional standards dictate that: (1) the doors to rooms where a patient might be present and unsupervised should be locked; (2) security screens should be placed on windows in rooms where a patient might be present and unsupervised; and (3) patients should be monitored in a way so that any out-of-the-ordinary actions on the part of the patients might be detected.

Miss. Dep’t of Mental Health v. Hall, 936 So. 2d 917, 925 (Miss. 2006)

In that case the patient attempted an escape from a third-story window of a psychiatric hospital. Due to a fall, she suffered severe injuries to her leg and sued because a patient in her mental condition should be monitored more closely than she was being monitored.

If you had a loved one who was in the care of a Mental Hospital, wouldn’t you want the symptoms above to trigger some sort of extra watchfulness or protection of your loved one from themselves. We made the case for our clients that any of these behaviors should be a red flag, and that ignoring them sealed the death warrant for our client.