Connecticut Supreme Court Nixes Medical Malpractice Case Against State Mental Health Facility For Patient’s Murder Of His Mother

In its opinion released on August 14, 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s complaint, as that court lacked jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s action because it was undisputed that the woman on whose behalf the action was brought was not a patient of the state, and, because there is no legally cognizable cause of action in Connecticut for medical malpractice by a nonpatient against a health-care provider, and the claim presented to and authorized by the claims commissioner was solely one of medical malpractice, the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim was barred.

Moreover, even if the plaintiff’s claim was construed as sounding in negligence, the trial court would have lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider such a claim, as the claims commissioner’s waiver of sovereign immunity on behalf of the state was for a claim of medical malpractice rather than negligence.

In the case the Connecticut Supreme Court was deciding, the administratrix of the estate of a woman who was fatally stabbed by her son while he was on an approved home visit from a residential mental health-care facility operated by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services filed a notice of claim with the Office of the Claims Commissioner, seeking permission to bring an action against the defendant for medical malpractice based on mental health services and treatment given to the son.

The claims commissioner issued an order granting permission to the plaintiff to bring an action against the defendant under General Statutes § 4-160 (b). The order specified that “[t]his grant of permission to sue is limited to that portion of the ‘claim alleging malpractice against the [defendant], a state hospital or a sanitarium or against a physician, surgeon, dentist, podiatrist, chiropractor, or all other licensed health-care providers employed by the [defendant].'”

The plaintiff thereafter filed an action alleging that the defendant was negligent in its diagnosis, care, treatment, and custody of the woman’s son, and that its level of care was below that of a reasonably prudent healthcare provider. Specifically, the plaintiff asserted that the defendant failed to secure psychiatric hospitalization for the woman’s son despite being aware of his emotional deterioration, allowed the son to visit his mother unsupervised despite knowing that he was acting in an increasingly threatening manner toward her, reassured the mother that it was safe to have her son visit despite knowing otherwise, and failed to warn the mother that her son posed a threat to her safety.

The defendant filed a motion to strike the plaintiff’s complaint, contending that Connecticut does not recognize medical malpractice claims brought by nonpatient third parties. The trial court granted the motion to strike, and the plaintiff appealed.

Connecticut Supreme Court Opinion

The Connecticut Supreme Court stated that the limitation that the claims commissioner placed on his authorization of the plaintiff’s action— restricting that authorization to the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim — created a quandary for the plaintiff. On the one hand, Connecticut does not permit medical malpractice actions to be brought by a nonpatient against a healthcare provider (a cause of action alleging medical malpractice must be brought by a patient against a health care provider because the language of the statute specifically provides that the alleged negligence must have occurred in the care or treatment of the claimant; thus, there is no legally cognizable cause of action in Connecticut for medical malpractice by a nonpatient against a healthcare provider). On the other hand, the plaintiff did not receive authorization to pursue a general negligence claim.

The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to strike: either the plaintiff’s claim is one of medical malpractice by a nonpatient, in which case it is barred, or it is a negligence claim that the claims commissioner did not authorize, in which case the trial court would not have subject matter jurisdiction. “It fails either way.”

Source Levin v. State of Connecticut, SC 19935.

If you or a family member may be the victim of medical malpractice in Connecticut or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a medical malpractice attorney in Connecticut or in your state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical negligence case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2018 at 5:18 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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