What is psychiatric malpractice, and how do I pursue a case?

Psychiatrists play a vital role in helping patients who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. However, when they cause harm by failing to provide appropriate care, they can be found liable for malpractice. Pursuing a case of psychiatric malpractice

Types of Errors That Could Constitute Psychiatric Malpractice

The relationship between a patient and psychiatrist depends on a number of factors, including subjective ideas of personal comfort. Simply not liking your psychiatrist or believing that seeing another provider for your therapy would be more effective doesn't make your psychiatrist guilty of malpractice. The legal definition of malpractice requires your psychiatrist to provide substandard care that deviates from widely established guidelines from respected professional groups such as the American Psychiatric Association.

Some examples of conduct that could form the basis of a malpractice claim include:

  • Neglecting to perform a suicide risk assessment for a depressed patient
  • Diagnosing improperly
  • Making medication errors
  • Ignoring signs of serious side effects with mood altering medication
  • Creating false memories of abuse or trauma
  • Neglecting to make arrangements for appropriate follow-up care
  • Starting treatment before obtaining informed consent
  • Sharing private patient information without consent
  • Taking advantage of a patient's trust by beginning an inappropriate sexual relationship

Types Of Compensation You Can Receive

A psychiatric malpractice claim can involve many different types of compensation. For example:

  • Cost of medical care such as emergency room care following a suicide attempt due to improperly prescribed medication
  • Loss of wages or future earning capacity, if the psychiatrist's conduct has limited your ability to earn a living
  • Pain and suffering

Louisiana limits compensation in medical malpractice cases to $500,000, but this cap doesn't apply to medical expenses. Settlement amounts of over $100,000 are paid from the state's Patient Compensation Fund.

Building a Malpractice Case Against Your Psychiatrist

The following four separate elements must be proven in any malpractice claim:

  • Duty. To be guilty of malpractice, the psychiatrist must have owed you a duty of care. This is proven by establishing evidence of a doctor-patient relationship through bills for past sessions or records of your appointment times.
  • Breach of Duty. The term breach of duty refers to deviations from the accepted standard of care for a specific condition. In a malpractice case, several different experts may be called to testify as to what the best course of treatment would have been given the unique circumstances surrounding your case.
  • Causation. A malpractice case requires that your psychiatrist’s conduct caused you direct physical or mental harm. In cases where an error was quickly discovered or the psychiatrist's actions didn't affect your overall prognosis, no malpractice has been committed.
  • Damages. Damages are the specific harm you've suffered as a result of your psychiatrist’s conduct. Wages and medical expenses are called economic damages because they have a cost that can be verified with documentation. Pain and suffering is a category of non-economic damages.

Seeking Legal Representation For Your Malpractice Claim

Louisiana law typically requires you to file a malpractice claim within one year of the medical treatment that forms the basis of the suit. In cases where a care provider's error isn't immediately discovered, the deadline is extended to three years.

Most psychiatric malpractice suits involve the patient bringing the legal action, but sometimes another party is needed to begin the case. When an adult patient is determined to be not competent to bring legal action due to a mental disability or impairment, a third-party guardian can file on his behalf. Parents or legal guardians must file suits on behalf of children under 18, since minors have no legal standing in a court of law. In a malpractice case involving a patient who committed suicide, the wrongful death action is brought by the deceased person's next of kin—such as a spouse, adult child, or parent.

Since malpractice cases involve multiple complex issues, having access to skilled legal representation is a must. Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to helping Louisiana residents who've suffered harm due to psychiatric malpractice receive the compensation they deserve. Contact us online or call us at 318.588.6303 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation. Appointments are available at six convenient office locations.