Articles Posted in Psychiatric Malpractice

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In April, we covered ProPublica’s investigation into UIC’s renowned child psychiatrist, Dr. Mani Pavuluri.

From 2009-2013, Dr. Pavuluri conducted a study on the effects of lithium in children with bipolar disorder. The study was abruptly cancelled when one of the subjects reported an illness serious enough to notify federal officials. Initially UIC would not disclose the total number of study participants.

Test subjects were given 8 weeks of lithium following a manic episode and then exposed to brain scans to monitor changes. UIC failed to properly oversee the study, only finding out later that their star pediatric psychiatrist had violated FDA standards, general research standards, and university rules to carry out her study.

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A man who posed as a psychologist treated as many as 44 patients, including a child. The man stole the identity of a doctor from Indiana who was licensed, enabling him to write prescriptions. The man, who had already pleaded guilty to posing as a psychologist, kept seeing patients and even opened up a mental health center in Chicago using the stolen doctor’s credentials. Federal investigators finally caught up with the imposter after being tipped off by a police officer.

Man Faces Charges
The man now faces a litany of charges including 24 counts of pretending to be a psychologist in Cook County. He was also charged with using a fake registration number along with the stolen identity to distribute a controlled substance. The last charge alone carries a four year prison sentence if found guilty. The man used his own photo along with the stolen name of the real doctor to advertise and run his clinic.
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Not all medical malpractice cases are straight-forward instances of medical professionals making obvious errors. Sometimes there are far more subtle and unique legal issues at play, often involving the intersection of personal responsibility and prudent medical decision-making. The emotions are always high in these cases.

Take, for example, the tragic story of one recent medical malpractice lawsuit filed following a suicide. The Pilot Online recently published an article on the tragic situation. According to the report, one woman was extremely worried about the health and well-being of her identical twin sister. Her sister, a Navy veteran, had battled depression and mental health issues for some time. Tragically, two years ago on Veterans Day the woman took her own life by taking an enormous quantity of Seroqual–a widely-used antipsychotic drug.

But the story is not as simple as that. The victim’s grieving sister was outraged at the situation, because the woman had tried to take her own life three times before in the previous eight months. She had tried to overdose on the exact same medication on each of those occasions but was unsuccessful. Yet, despite those past three attempts, her doctor at the defendant-VA hospital still gave her a 120-day supply of the drug. That large prescription allowed her to consume enough of the pills at once to kill herself.

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Medical doctors immediately jump to mind when most hear the phrase “medical malpractice.” After all, culturally we are engrained to think of these types of cases involving surgeons, OBGYNs, ER doctors, nurses, and others working in hosptials and medical clinics. It is true that most medical malpractice cases do stem from mistakes made in these settings. However, the actual legal arena of medical malpractice also extends to other healthcare-related professionals, including dentists or even psychiatrists. The same basic principles are at play in all of these professionals negligence cases. Was there the appropriate legal relationship between the parties? Did the professional abide by appropriate standards of care? If there was a break from those standards, did it cause harm to the patient?

However, even though the basic legal outline in the same in all cases, that is not to say that unique factors often come into play. This is illustrated in a somewhat unique case reported recently in the SF Gate. According to the story, a medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against a family doctor who allegedly acted inappropriately in having an affair with a patient. That patient ended up divorced and suffering from various forms of distress. The patient eventually filed a suit seeking accountability from the doctor for the harm.

Obviously, this case seems bizarre on its face. The civil justice system does not allow plaintiffs to recover for all harm they experience in their lives that can in any way be “caused” by someone else. Individual choices do matter, and in almost all cases, having a marital affair,(even if it causes long-term mental and emotional harm) does not open the door to a civil lawsuit against the paramour.

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The Chicago Tribune reported this weekend on a disturbing story of sexual abuse out of suburban Tinley Park. According to court documents, a psychologist with the Tinley Park Mental Health Center was charged with coercing a female patient into performing sex acts in exchange from her release from the facility.

The 66-year old doctor has worked for the Illinois Department of Human Services for over 20 years. He was even the facility’s liaison to the state’s attorney’s office. The victim was a 45-year old patient suffering from depression. She was confronted by the abuser and told that if she did not perform the sex acts requested than the doctor would not allow her to be released from the health center. Fearing that she had no other choice, the woman complied with the man’s request.

Following her release, the abuser attempted to cover his tracks by giving the victim money in exchange for not telling authorities about his conduct. Fortunately, she eventually came forward and talked with police. He is no longer seeing patients at the facility and is charged with several criminal counts for his misconduct.
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A doctor who specializes in pain and addition is facing a wrongful death lawsuit. This lawsuit was filed by the family of a former patient who state that the victim became addicted to drugs while under the doctor’s care before he committed suicide. The medical malpractice lawsuit states that the doctor turned the victim into a drug addict through a regular regimen of addictive painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs. The 30-year-old then killed himself with an overdose of pills prescribed from the pain clinic where the doctor works. The victim first sought out the doctor for back pain and was prescribed oxycodone months before the MRI confirmed an injury. The doctor never referred the victim to a drug addiction specialist. The doctor actually specializes in urology despite his advertisements which state that he works in pain and addiction. The doctor’s deception could lead to medical malpractice. To learn more about the wrongful death lawsuit, please click the link.

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A county is paying $1.3 million to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit over the injuries suffered by a mentally disturbed patient. This patient injured himself when escaping out of a window of a county-owned mental hospital. Court documents say that in the 2004 incident, the 27-year-old mentally handicapped person was in a seclusion room on the hospital’s fifth floor when he climbed out a window and tried to jump 15 to 20 to a fire escape landing. He suffered multiple fractures in the fall. The family alleges he was not adequately monitored by staff at the hospital. The $1.3 million medical malpractice settlement was reached on December 23. To read more about the medical malpractice settlement, please click the link.

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The family of a former Harvard student who committed suicide two years ago has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university and two medical professionals at the school’s health services. The young man was a 19-year-old sophomore when he died. A nurse practitioner prescribed the victim a mixture of medicines, some of which where known to increase the risk of suicide. The supervising doctor committed medical malpractice by failing to properly monitor the nurse practitioner who prescribed the drugs. The man’s father contends that his son did not have prior health problems. Psychiatric malpractice is a common form of medical malpractice. To find out more about the medical malpractice, please click the link.

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The sister of a deceased woman is suing Northwestern Memorial Hospital on behalf of the victim after the woman committed suicide while in the hospital’s care. According to the medical malpractice suit filed in Cook County, Northwestern should have recognized the late patient’s risk for self-injury and suicide since she was admitted into the hospital’s care after a suicide attempt. The lawsuit states that the hospital was negligent in leaving the victim, who expressed regret that her attempt at suicide has been unsuccessful, unsupervised and alone in a room with the means and opportunity to commit suicide. The family is asking for pecuniary damages exceeding $50,000. The medical malpractice lawsuit claims two counts of wrongful death and survival. Visit WBBM to learn more about the medical malpractice suit.

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A psychiatric malpractice suit filed for wrongful death of an inmate will pursue against a county and psychiatrist. An inmate committed suicide after his psychiatrist ordered “close watch” of his patient by the prison employees because he recognized the inmate had suicidal tendencies. However, the psychiatrist did not realize “close watch” did not mean “continuous watch” in prison terms and thus the patient was left alone for a period of 15 minutes when he was able to commit suicide. A judge allowed the deceased’s medical malpractice claims to proceed.

Read more about the psychiatric malpractice case here.