Massachusetts Appellate Court Rules Boston Public Health Commission May Be Held Liable For Decedent’s Suicide

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court (“Massachusetts Appellate Court”) held in its unpublished Memorandum And Order dated August 27, 2019 that “the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint plausibly suggest that the plaintiff may be entitled to relief under G. L. c. 258, § 10 (j) (2), on her wrongful death claim because the public employees’ intervention placed the decedent in a worse position than before the intervention. Further concluding that the public employees owed a duty of care to the decedent and that the complaint suggests that the decedent’s suicide was a foreseeable result of the employees’ negligence, we reverse the portion of the judgment dismissing the wrongful death claim.”

The Underlying Facts

Pine Street Inn staff members called 911 to report that the decedent was experiencing suicidal thoughts. In response to the call, Boston EMS, an ambulance company under the control of the commission, arrived at the Pine Street Inn. The EMTs staffing the ambulance were aware that the decedent had expressed suicidal ideations. The EMTs chose not to restrain the decedent. Although it is the practice of Boston EMS to transport suicidal patients to the hospital with a police escort, the EMTs did not do so on this occasion. When one of the EMTs opened the door to the ambulance when they arrived at the hospital, the decedent ran into the street, lay down, and was struck by a car and killed.

The plaintiff alleged in her complaint that the EMTs removed the decedent from the Pine Street Inn, where staff was looking out for the decedent and securing help for her, and brought her to a place where nobody was willing or able to prevent her from killing herself.

G. L. c. 258, § 10 (j) (2)

The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act largely shields public employers from suits arising out of the violent conduct of third parties by immunizing public employers from “any claim based on an act or failure to act to prevent or diminish the harmful consequences of a condition or situation, including the violent or tortious conduct of a third person, which is not originally caused by the public employer or any other person acting on behalf of the public employer.” Section 10 (j), however, enumerates four exceptions for the exclusion it creates: § 10 (j) (2) provides an exception to immunity for claims “based upon the intervention of a public employee which causes injury to the victim or places the victim in a worse position than [she] was in before the
intervention.”

The Massachusetts Appellate Court stated, “If these alleged facts were to be proved, a trier of fact could conclude that the EMTs “place[d] the victim in a worse position than [s]he was in before the[ir] invention.” The Massachusetts Appellate Court further stated: “the allegations in the complaint are at least sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The EMTs transported the decedent, who was known to have expressed suicidal ideations, without restraints and without a police escort. When arriving at the hospital, an EMT opened the ambulance door, and the decedent fled to a busy street, lay down, and was struck by a vehicle. As it is reasonably foreseeable that a suicidal person might attempt to commit suicide if given an opportunity to do so, the plaintiff has surmounted the minimal hurdle of surviving a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.”

The Massachusetts Appellate Court also stated: “We find no support in Massachusetts law for the notion that EMTs do not have a duty of care to the patients they transport.”

Source Gail L. Williams, special administratrix vs. Boston Public Health Commission, 18-P-859.

If you lost a loved one due to suicide in Massachusetts or in another U.S. state for which medical negligence may have caused or contributed to the death, you should find a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your suicide claim for you and represent you or your loved one’s family in a suicide malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click on the “Contact Us Now” tab to the right, visit our website, or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 at 5:30 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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