A Bronx hospital can’t be held liable for causing the death of a patient with anxiety disorder who committed suicide soon after being discharged, because the patient had consistently denied to doctors having suicidal thoughts or ideas, a state appeals court has ruled.
An Appellate Division, First Department panel also wrote in its decision Tuesday—which affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the medical malpractice complaint—that the “plaintiff’s expert’s opinion that, given the circumstances surrounding decedent’s presence in [Lincoln Medical Center’s] emergency department for psychiatric evaluation, the decision to discharge him led to his death, is speculative,” citing Park v. Kovachevich.
The patient, unnamed in the decision, had undergone a procedure at Lincoln Hospital Center’s gastrointestinal clinic, when he was found crying in the hospital and saying he was depressed, the panel wrote. He was transferred to the hospital’s emergency department for psychiatric evaluation, where he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, scheduled for a follow-up appointment and discharged later the same day, the panel added.
In writing that Lincoln Medical Center, part of defendant New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., and related defendants had established prima facie that they hadn’t departed “from good and accepted medical practice” when treating and releasing the patient, the panel pointed to both treating physicians’ testimony and a defense psychiatric expert’s testimony.
Citing the treating physicians’ deposition testimony and extensive medical records, the unanimous panel wrote that, in response to hospital questioning, the patient consistently denied having suicidal thoughts or ideation while stating that his anxiety stemmed in part from an uncomfortable living situation.
The defense psychiatric expert had opined that the defendants had complied with accepted professional standards of psychiatric care and made an appropriate discharge, because the patient had denied multiple times that he had any suicidal or homicidal ideation, didn’t present a danger to himself or others, didn’t present with a sudden psychiatric condition, demonstrated good insight and impulse control, and displayed sincere concern for his own well-being, the panel wrote.
At the same time, the panel, comprised of Justices Sallie Manzanet-Daniels, Peter Tom, Troy Webber and Jeffrey Oing, noted that plaintiff Altagracia Morillo—who had an unspecified connection to the decedent—“failed to raise an issue of fact, notwithstanding plaintiff’s submission of the affidavit of the decedent’s girlfriend, who accompanied him to LHC’s emergency department and averred that defendants never inquired as to suicidal ideation.”
The panel’s decision affirmed the 2015 ruling of Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon to grant Lincoln Hospital Center’s and related defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman at the city Law Department—which represented defendants, as New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. is a municipal healthcare system—said in email that the First Department “was legally correct in not holding HHC liable for this tragic incident.”
Aleksey Feygin, an attorney with Mark M. Basichas & Associates in Manhattan, represented Morillo, and could not be reached for comment.