Can I File a Medical Malpractice Claim Against a Psychiatrist?

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When a patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit, it means that he or she was injured in some way by the health care provider who was responsible for the patient’s care. Common examples of medical malpractice include surgical errors, medication errors, and diagnosis errors. Although malpractice cases involving psychiatrists are less common, they do occur. Unfortunately, the patient who is impacted by a psychiatrist’s negligent behavior is already vulnerable, mentally, or emotionally unstable, or even suicidal. This can have a devastating impact on the patient’s mental health. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer will work closely with the patient to determine whether negligence was involved and recommend the best legal course of action.

What are Examples of Psychiatric Malpractice?

Psychiatrists are legally obligated to provide the standard of care that another psychiatrist with the same training would provide in a similar situation. When the standard of care is breached because of negligent behavior, the patient may pursue a psychiatric malpractice lawsuit. The following are examples of psychiatric malpractice:

  • Failure to properly assess a patient who is suicidal. There are a range of screenings that are performed to determine whether a patient who is prone to suicidal tendencies is likely to become suicidal. If a psychiatrist fails to perform these screenings or provide the appropriate treatment and the patient attempts suicide, the psychiatrist may be held liable.
  • Diagnosis error. Psychiatrists diagnose patients based on a wide range of symptoms and a thorough patient history. If an incorrect diagnosis is made, the patient will not get the treatment necessary. In addition, the condition could become significantly worse over time.
  • Prescription error. Effective treatment for a mental health condition often involves prescription medications. These can be very effective at managing symptoms. However, if an incorrect drug or the wrong dosage is prescribed, it can cause very serious health complications. In addition, if the psychiatrist fails to review the patient’s records and prescribes a medication for which the patient is allergic, the psychiatrist may be liable for medical malpractice.
  • Warning a third party of a serious threat. Although the doctor-patient confidentiality rule applies to things discussed in a therapy session, a psychiatrist has a responsibility to report credible threats against another person. If the patient tells the doctor that he or she plans to cause physical harm to another person, but the psychiatrist fails to report the threat, the psychiatrist may be held liable for the neighbor’s injuries if the patient acts on the threat.
  • Engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a patient. Although it is normal for a patient to develop a close, intimate relationship with his or her therapist, it is unacceptable for the psychiatrist to engage in a sexual relationship with a patient. It is the psychiatrist’s responsibility to establish boundaries and maintain a professional relationship. Engaging in a sexual relationship is grounds for a malpractice claim.

The following are additional examples of psychiatric malpractice:

  • Failure to provide the proper care to a patient who is a suicide risk
  • Sending patient to a mental health facility when it is not necessary
  • Prescribing antipsychotic medication when it is not is not warranted
  • Engaging in physical abuse or humiliating behavior toward the patient
  • Using unnecessary force to hold down or restrain a patient
  • Failure to obtain consent for treatment

How Do I Prove Psychiatric Malpractice?

Psychiatric malpractice can be just as harmful as other types of malpractice, yet it can be more challenging to prove. In addition to the fact that there is no physical injury, these claims are often met with a degree of skepticism because patients are vulnerable and often unstable. To prove psychiatric malpractice, the patient must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • There was a doctor-patient relationship. If treatment has been provided, it means that a doctor-patient relationship has been established. This aspect is generally simple to prove by obtaining copies of medical bills and treatment records.
  • The psychiatrist was negligent. The patient must be able to prove that the psychiatrist was negligent. To prove negligence, the patient must be able to establish the standard of care that a reasonably competent psychiatrist would have provided under similar circumstances. The patient must also prove that there was a breach in the standard of care. For example, if the standard of care for a mental health disorder involves prescribing a certain medication but the psychiatrist failed to prescribe the medication, this would be considered a breach of the standard of care.
  • The negligence caused harm. The patient cannot file a malpractice lawsuit simply because they were unhappy with the treatment of the outcome. They must be able to prove that the psychiatrist’s negligence caused harm, which could include the following:
    – Pain and suffering
    – Medical expenses for current and future treatment
    – Lost wages and lost earning capacity
    – Loss of the ability to enjoy life

What are the Different Types of Malpractice Cases Involving a Psychiatrist?

The relationship between a psychiatric and his or her patient is an extremely personal one in which intense, often painful, and traumatic events are shared. When a psychiatrist engages in negligent behavior, it can have a devastating impact on the patient’s mental health. The following are examples of three types of psychiatric malpractice cases:

  • Exploitation of the trust relationship. When a psychiatrist takes advantage of his or her position of power or abuses the patient’s trust, the psychiatrist has broken the code of ethics. If this causes harm to the patient, the psychiatrist may be held liable for the harm.
  • Improper prescriptions. There are a wide range of medications that may be prescribed for a psychiatric patient. Prescribing the wrong dosage or an incorrect medication can have very serious consequences on the patient’s health. Psychiatrists must use the same care that other health care providers use when prescribing medication for a patient with a mental health condition.
  • Third-party liability. Psychiatrists must abide by strict rules of confidentiality. However, if a patient tells a therapist that he or she intends to injure or kill another person, it puts the psychiatrist in a difficult position. If the psychiatrist honors the doctor-patient confidentiality and the patient kills another person, the family of the deceased may be able to sue the psychiatrist if the patient was clear about his or her intention to kill, and the psychiatrist believed that the threat was legitimate but failed to act.

What Damages are Available in a Psychiatric Malpractice Claim?

Psychiatric malpractice cases are eligible for the same damages as other medical malpractice claims. These types of cases can get very complicated, so a qualified expert is often required to swear under oath that, based on the details of the case, the expert believes that the health care provider breached the standard of care. The total financial settlement will depend on a range of factors. However, the patient is entitled to the following damages if the case reaches a favorable outcome:

Economic damages. These are damages that can be precisely calculated and are often referred to as special damages. In Maryland, there is no cap on economic damages. They include the following:

  • Medical expenses: This may include hospital bills, ambulance fees, home health care, and therapy sessions.
  • Lost wages: If a serious mental health issue prevents the patient from being able to return to work, he or she may be eligible to collect compensation for lost wages, as well as lost future earning capacity.

Non-economic damages. These are awarded for a diminished quality of life. There is a cap on non-economic damages for 2021, which is $890,000. They include payments for the following:

  • Pain and suffering: This refers to the physical and emotional stress that the patient experiences as a result of the psychiatric malpractice.
  • Loss of consortium: This usually refers to the loss of companionship that the surviving family members suffer after the loss of a loved one.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life: Psychiatric malpractice can cause a patient to suffer serious mental and emotional pain.

Punitive damages. These are awarded to punish a health care professional for behavior that is considered to be particularly egregious. For example, if a psychiatrist engages in sexual activity with a patient or fails to properly assess a patient who is suicidal because he or she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during a session, this would be considered egregious behavior, and the patient may be awarded punitive damages.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Psychiatric Malpractice

If you or a loved one was the victim of psychiatric malpractice, it is in your best interest to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will thoroughly investigate the details of your case and determine whether the psychiatrist responsible for your care was negligent in any way. Our dedicated and compassionate legal team will ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.