Can You Sue a Mental Health Facility for Negligence?

Psychiatric hospitals, also known as mental or behavioral health facilities, focus on diagnosing and treating severe mental illness. Led by medical doctors (MDs) or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs), they provide specialized care for conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.

Like general hospitals, mental health facilities must meet specific licensing standards set by the Social Security Act and have qualified staff following mandated personnel requirements. All this ensures they can provide effective treatment, which includes keeping detailed medical records of each patient.

Unlike some historical institutions, modern psychiatric hospitals prioritize treatment and rehabilitation. Some offer short-term stays for lower-risk patients, like those experiencing a mental health crisis. For instance, Pennsylvania’s Section 302 allows for involuntary evaluation and brief hospitalization (up to 120 hours) if someone poses a danger to themselves or others. In these cases, the hospital provides temporary stability until the person is deemed safe. This process ensures the safety and well-being of all individuals involved.


Determining Negligence in A Behavioral Health Setting

Negligence in a behavioral health setting occurs when either the facility itself or its staff falls short of meeting the legally mandated standard of care, resulting in physical or mental harm to the patient. The legal standard of care is defined as the level of care that a reasonable behavioral health facility would offer under comparable circumstances. Examples of negligence may involve the failure to prevent self-harm, insufficient supervision, improper medication administration, or neglect of fundamental needs. Sometimes there can be cases of negligence that may be determined as institutional abuse.


Common Examples of Negligence in Behavioral Health Facilities

Negligence in a psychiatric facility can take many forms, including medication errors, failure to prevent self-harm, ignoring or minimizing symptoms, and inadequate supervision. In some cases, basic needs such as food, sleep, or hygiene may be neglected. Sometimes, these failures are a result of understaffing or employing underqualified staff. Sadly, some patients are also victims of abuse in mental health facilities that could have been prevented with proper staffing and supervision.


Compensation Available in Cases Against Negligent Psychiatric Facilities

In a legal action against a mental health facility for negligence, the compensation sought aims to address all losses incurred by the victim, both past and future, attributable to the negligence. This typically encompasses various elements, such as medical costs, lost earnings, and non-economic damages, which encompass pain and suffering. Compensatory medical expenses and lost wages pertain to additional treatments, fees, and income losses resulting from the negligence, excluding any costs already incurred for treatment at the facility.

Given the unique circumstances of each case, the precise compensation awarded hinges on the specifics of the situation. While mental health negligence lawyers can offer insights into compensation amounts granted in similar cases, they cannot guarantee a specific level of compensation.


Deadlines for Filing a Lawsuit Against Negligent Behavioral Health Facilities

Statutes of limitations dictate the time frame for legal actions, which vary by state. In medical malpractice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, you typically have two years from the date of malpractice to initiate a lawsuit. It’s crucial to consult with a trustworthy medical malpractice attorney to ascertain the specific time constraints applicable to your case.


What can I do if a family member is suffering abuse or neglect at a psychiatric facility?

If a family member is experiencing abuse or neglect, there are legal avenues to pursue. Under the Mental Health and Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. § 7101 et seq, if you or a loved one is receiving treatment for a mental illness in an institution and has suffered harm due to neglect, proving a case requires more than just showing ordinary negligence. The MHPA sets a higher standard, necessitating proof of willful misconduct or gross negligence.

Gross negligence surpasses ordinary carelessness, indicating behavior that significantly deviates from the standard of care. It involves actions that flagrantly disregard the expected level of care. Whether an instance qualifies as gross negligence hinges on the case’s circumstances.

For legal purposes, willful misconduct involves actions where the actor intended the resulting harm or was certain it would occur. Even without explicit statements of intent to cause harm, if the actions were clearly going to result in harm, willful misconduct can be inferred. Determining whether willful misconduct occurred depends on the factual details of the situation.


Determining Negligence on The Part of a Psychiatric Hospital

Obtaining medical records is essential to determine whether gross negligence or willful misconduct occurred during your or your family member’s care at a psychiatric hospital. A seasoned attorney can provide authorizations for accessing these records.

Additionally, they might have conducted an investigative survey if you lodged a complaint with your state’s Department of Health regarding your hospital care. This survey involves reviewing records and interviewing relevant staff. Any violations of regulations or federal statutes discovered by the surveyor can strengthen your case against the psychiatric facility. Furthermore, your attorney will need to engage appropriate medical experts specializing in psychiatric care at mental health hospitals to support your case’s progression.

A medical malpractice attorney can help you hold a negligent facility responsible and secure compensation for your physical injuries, emotional distress, and financial losses. Your lawyer will evaluate the viability of your claim, guide you through available options, facilitate communication with the healthcare facility and their insurer, meet legal deadlines for filing claims, collect evidence, and represent your case in court proceedings if required.

Although most personal injury attorneys will accept your case on a contingency basis, it’s crucial to thoroughly discuss fees and additional out-of-pocket expenses with any lawyer you’re contemplating hiring. This ensures clarity regarding their fee structure and policies.

The Thistle Law Firm is experienced in handling claims against hospitals – psychiatric, mental, and behavioral health hospitals as well as medical ones. If you or a family member suffered some harm while being treated at one and believe negligence was involved, the attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are here to take your call and answer your questions at 215-568-6800 or fill out our form below.


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive regarding how to sue a mental health facility:


1. What are some signs that a mental health facility might be negligent?

Warning signs can include understaffing, inadequate staff training, a lack of proper security measures, or a failure to follow treatment plans. If you notice a loved one experiencing worsening symptoms, unexplained injuries, or a decline in overall well-being during their stay, these could be potential red flags.

2. Can a mental health facility be sued for failing to prevent self-harm?

Potentially. If a facility knew a patient was at risk of self-harm and failed to take reasonable precautions, leading to injury or worsening of the patient’s condition, a negligence claim might be possible. However, proving negligence in mental health cases can be complex.

3. Under what circumstances can I sue a mental health facility?

You may have grounds for a negligence lawsuit if a residential mental health facility’s mistakes caused you or a loved one significant harm or worsened your condition. This could involve medication errors, inadequate supervision, failure to identify or address risk factors, or improper discharge planning. Consulting with a medical malpractice attorney specializing in mental health cases is crucial to understanding your specific situation and legal options.

4. What needs to be proven to win a negligence claim?

To succeed in a negligence claim, you generally need to prove four elements:

  • Duty of Care: The facility is legally obligated to provide a certain standard of care based on your condition.
  • Breach of Duty: The facility failed to meet that standard of care through actions or omissions.
  • Causation: The facility’s breach directly caused your injury or worsened your condition.
  • Damages: You suffered harm from the breach, such as physical or emotional injuries, medical expenses, or lost wages.

5. How long does a lawsuit against a mental health facility typically take?

The timeframe for a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a mental health facility can vary significantly. Factors like case complexity, the number of parties involved, and court backlogs all influence the timeline. Some cases might settle within months, while others can take years to resolve through litigation.

Leave a Comment