Tragically, malpractice can occur in treating a person with mental health issues.
When a patient threatens to harm himself or others, and the treating psychiatrist or psychologist does not take appropriate steps to protect the patient, and the patient in fact harms himself or another, the treating physician may be held responsible in civil damages. These cases are very much like medical malpractice cases with one major exception.
In Pennsylvania, the Mental Health Procedures Act requires an injured party to prove not only a negligent act, but that the act was grossly negligent.
The specific provision of the Act is as follows: “In the absence of willful misconduct or gross negligence, a county administrator, a director of a facility, a physician, a peace officer, or any other authorized person who participates in a decision that a person be examined or treated under this act, or that the person be discharged, or placed under partial hospitalization, outpatient care or leave of absence or that the restraint upon such person be reduced, or a county administrator or person who denies an application for voluntary treatment or for involuntary emergency examination and treatment,shall not be civilly or criminally laible for such decision or for any of its consequences.” 50 P.S. Section 7114(a)
As in all negligence cases, causation must be proven. The victim of the negligent act must prove that but for the negligent act the harm would not have occurred and that the negligent act was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm. Anthony J. Baratta has co-authored an article published in a respected psychiatric journal about how to prove causation in these cases.