In its opinion filed on July 20, 2016, the District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida Fourth District (“Appellate Court”) affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint alleging that the defendant hospital and defendant psychiatrist were negligent in having the decedent sign a form authorizing his voluntary admission to the defendant hospital for suicidal ideations and bizarre behavior, instead of involuntary admission, finding that the plaintiff’s claim was for medical malpractice, as opposed to ordinary negligence, thereby requiring the plaintiff to file the appropriate pre-suit notice, which the plaintiff failed to do.
The Alleged Underlying Facts
The decedent, who had been previously diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, was brought by the police to the defendant hospital on July 16, 2010, for suicidal ideations, bizarre behavior, and complaining that he was hearing voices and hallucinating. The decedent told a nurse that he had a suicide plan to take pills to kill himself.
The defendant psychiatrist, who was responsible for the care and treatment of the decedent while he was in the hospital, had the decedent sign a consent form for voluntary admission to the facility, which the plaintiff alleged in the wrongful death lawsuit was solely for the convenience of the defendants, allowing them to avoid Baker Act hearings and to keep the State of Florida out of the decedent’s care and treatment. At some point, the decedent’s mother requested that the defendants release the decedent to the care of a family member or placed in a safe house upon his discharge from the hospital.
Thirteen days after he had been admitted to the defendant hospital, the decedent was discharged from the hospital at which time he was given his money, a taxi cab voucher, and prescriptions for his medications. The decedent took the prescriptions to a pharmacy to get them filled. A day later, he was found dead of an overdose of medication.
The plaintiff’s wrongful death complaint specifically alleged that the defendant psychiatrist did not breach the standard of care in treating the decedent, that there was no negligence in the decision to discharge the decedent or in prescribing medications, and that the complaint was not based on medical negligence. Instead, the complaint alleged that the defendant psychiatrist was negligent by providing false documents which allowed the decedent’s voluntary admission to the defendant hospital which allowed his release without notifying family members and directly led to his death.
The plaintiff’s complaint further alleged a cause of action for abuse of a vulnerable adult pursuant to section 415.111, Florida Statutes (2010), because the defendant psychiatrist was a caregiver and the defendant hospital was a facility under the Baker Act, and the defendants breached their duty of care through the false consent form, which prevented the protections of the Baker Act from being applied, and discharged the decedent without providing safety precautions.
The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, contending that, despite its claims to the contrary, the action was based on medical negligence without compliance with pre-suit conditions. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court noted that the defendant psychiatrist certified that he personally evaluated the decedent and found him competent to consent to treatment, and it was the defendant psychiatrist’s medical evaluation which led to the consent form, without which the decedent would not have been admitted on a voluntary basis (because the defendant was found to be competent, he could not be admitted on an involuntary basis). The Appellate Court further noted that the plaintiff’s complaint does not allege that the decedent was incapable of consenting or that he met the criteria for involuntary placement, which in and of itself would be a medical diagnosis. Therefore, the Appellate Court held that at its core, the plaintiff’s claim is one involving medical judgment and thus would constitute an allegation of medical malpractice if the defendant psychiatrist had improperly found him competent to consent to voluntary admission to the facility.
The Appellate Court also stated that at the time of his death, the decedent was not in the custody or control of the facility. If there was no negligence in discharging him, then he was entitled to be discharged, and there was no necessity for a hearing under the Baker Act. The Appellate Court held that since the facility has no common law duty to protect a patient once he has left its custody and control, the complaint fails to state a cause of action for liability of the defendants.
The Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint because the complaint is based upon medical malpractice and it failed to comply with the Medical Malpractice Act.
Source Haslett v. Broward Health Imperial Point Medical Center, No. 4D14-3441.
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