Can You Sue a Psychiatrist for Malpractice?
Yes, psychiatrists can be sued for medical malpractice if they deviate from the accepted standard of care and cause a patient harm. Psychiatrists, like other medical professionals, have a duty to provide competent care to their patients.
However, due to the unique nature of psychiatric practice, they often face different and more complex legal challenges. Below, we explore the common reasons that a person will pursue a case against a psychiatrist as well as how to establish liability should you bring a claim forward.
Examples of Psychiatric Malpractice
Here are some ways in which a psychiatrist can violate the standard duty of care and cause their patient harm and potentially lead to a lawsuit:
Exploitation of Trust: Having Sexual Relations with a Patient
One of the most serious ethical and legal violations a psychiatrist can commit is engaging in sexual relations with a patient. This act is considered an exploitation of trust, where the psychiatrist takes advantage of the inherent power imbalance in the doctor-patient relationship. It's not just unethical—it's illegal in many jurisdictions and can lead to severe penalties, including losing the right to practice.
Breach of Confidentiality
Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the psychiatrist-patient relationship. Patients need to trust that what they share will remain private. Thus, sharing information without patient consent can lead to civil consequences.
A breach of this confidentiality could lead to a malpractice lawsuit. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when the patient poses a threat to themselves or others, but these exceptions should be handled carefully to avoid legal repercussions.
Misdiagnosis can have severe consequences in psychiatry. Incorrectly diagnosing a patient can lead to improper treatment, worsening of the condition, and even suicide. If a psychiatrist fails to diagnose a patient correctly and the patient harms themselves, the psychiatrist could face a malpractice suit.
Failure to Prevent Suicide
If a psychiatrist fails to take necessary steps to prevent a patient's suicide despite clear warning signs, they could be held legally responsible. For example, a psychiatrist who fails to conduct a suicide risk assessment or take action if they suspect their client is having suicidal thoughts can face a medical malpractice or wrongful death suit.
Prescribing Improper Medication
The prescription of medication is a critical aspect of psychiatric care. However, prescribing the wrong medication, incorrect dosage, or failing to monitor a patient’s reaction to a drug can have detrimental effects on a patient’s health. This negligence can lead to a malpractice claim.
Failure to Warn Third Parties of Potential Harm
Known as the "duty to warn" or "duty to protect," psychiatrists must sometimes break confidentiality to prevent harm to third parties. If a patient makes credible threats toward someone else, the psychiatrist has a responsibility to notify the potential victim or law enforcement.
Creation of False Memories
In therapy, particularly when using techniques like hypnosis, there's a risk of creating false memories. These can have devastating effects on a patient's life and mental health. If a psychiatrist is found to have implanted false memories—either intentionally or negligently—they may face a malpractice lawsuit.
Proving Psychiatric Malpractice
Just as in other medical malpractice cases, you will need to prove the following elements to substantiate your psychiatric malpractice case:
- The psychiatrist had a doctor-patient relationship with the aggrieved party.
- The psychiatrist acted negligently and breached the standard of care.
- The patient (or a third party) suffered injuries and damages because of the breach of duty.
Proving these elements often requires various types of evidence:
- Emails or correspondence. Communication between the psychiatrist and patient can provide evidence of malpractice, such as inappropriate comments or advice.
- Medical records. These documents can demonstrate the nature and extent of the psychiatrist's relationship with the patient, the treatment provided, and any deviations from the standard of care.
- Expert testimony. Medical experts can explain the standard of care the psychiatrist should have followed and how they deviated from it.
- Patient testimony. The patient can share their experiences and the impact of the malpractice on their life.
- Witness testimony. Other individuals who observed the psychiatrist's behavior or the patient's condition can provide corroborating evidence.
Consult with Our Medical Malpractice Attorney
Should you or someone you love suffer harm at the hands of a psychiatrist, the Law Offices of Charles R. Gueli can help with your case. With decades of legal experience, you can trust our team will work to help you maximize your compensation and minimize your liability and receive the best possible case results.
To learn more about your legal rights and options, schedule an initial consultation by calling (516) 628-6402.