The Sacramento Bee wrote yesterday on a unique medical malpractice case stemming from the family of troubled man suing his psychiatrist. The case involved a lot of legal firsts for the state, and it is rooted in the murder of a woman by her psychotic son. The centerpiece of the suit is the family's claim that the attacker's psychiatrist is at least partially to blame for the death because he discontinued the mentally ill man's anti-psychotic medication shortly before the attack. As blog readers know, a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed when any medical professional's actions do not conform to that of a reasonable professional and the misconduct results in harm to another. While this case is incredibly rare, it does provide good material to illustrate the concepts of medical malpractice. The law in the state specifically prohibits a criminal's family member from profiting from the wrongdoing. However, in this case, the attacker was mentally ill at the time and was not aware of what he was doing. In that way, his actions were not actually "criminal" in the strict legal sense. In this case the allegedly negligent doctor was working at a community health center when he began treating the ill man. Witnesses have testified that the anti-psychotic drug that had been prescribed to the attacker was working and helped him manage his violent tendencies and sexual impulses. However, the doctor discontinued use of two powerful medications. Shortly thereafter the mentally ill individual began having nightmares and believing that the devil was ordering him to do bad things. The problem reached a boiling point when he attacked his mother, ultimately killing her. He was charged with murder but was deemed unfit to stand trial. He was committed to a state mental institution where he currently resides. The husband of the victim filed the medical malpractice suit, claiming that the psychiatrist was negligent in discontinuing the medication, an act which ultimately caused the woman's death. The doctor attempted to have the suit dismissed by referring to the state law which banned family's from receiving awards following criminal acts. However, the state's Supreme Court recently ruled on the issue and unanimously allowed the case to go forward. The justice who authored the legal decision explained that the man's psychiatric disorder changed the legal situation. The psychiatrist involved owed a duty of reasonable care to the ill man and his family. The jury should be allowed to determine if that doctor breached his duty by stopping the man's medication. If the jury finds that to be the case, then the family should be able to receive compensation for the losses that resulted from that damaging and unreasonable medical decision.
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