As we have discussed in an earlier post, a medical professional owes no duty to a third person arising from any claimed special relationship between the medical professional and a patient. However, when the health care professional is a mental health professional, the situation is entirely different. This particular issue was raised when a lawsuit was filed against mental health professionals claiming that they owed a duty to warn a potential victim of their patient.
Jason Potter had a longstanding history of mental health issues and was hospitalized at various times in 1997-1998. At one particular hospitalization it was noted by professionals that he was disorganized, confused and depressed. Mr. Potter was admitted to the hospital as a safety precaution. It should be noted that this was a voluntary admission- meaning he had the capacity to check himself out. During his stay doctors indicated that Mr. Potter was paranoid and experiencing racing thoughts. Mr. Potter checked himself out after a two day stay at the hospital, against his doctors advice who recommended a longer stay. Mr. Potter’s medical records indicated that he was impulsive and a noncompliance risk but not a danger to himself.
A licensed clinical social worker, Jean Semexant, performed an evaluation of Mr. Potter a day after his release. Mr. Potter attended this meeting with his mother. Semexant knew that Mr. Potter resided with his mother and stepfather, and that the stepfather had recently been released from jail for violating an abuse prevention order. Medical records indicate that Mr. Potter denied having any suicidal thoughts or homicidal ideations. Semexant did not intend to hospitalize Mr. Potter as a result. Following this evaluation, Mr. Potter returned to his home where he brutally stabbed his mother and stepfather to death. He was tried for two counts of murder and was found guilty by reason of insanity. Continue reading →