Medical malpractice; exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions

Summers v. Syptak, 801 S.E.2d 422 (Va. 2017)

The Virginia Supreme Court rules that in a claim by a patient that crude, offensive and sexually oriented remarks to the patient by the physician aggravated symptoms of the patient’s pre-existing multiple mental health and medical conditions, the plaintiff’s failure to designate an expert to testify that the physician’s conduct was the proximate cause of the harm experienced by the patient required dismissal under Virginia’s medical malpractice statute.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Criminal responsibility; self-induced intoxication

State v. Eager, 398 P.3d 756 (Haw. 2017)

The Hawai’i Supreme Court reverses felony assault conviction of defendant whose psychotic condition at the time of the assault was found by the trial court to be “self-induced” due to the defendant’s failure to take his medication. The Supreme Court rules that state law requires such intoxication be caused by the introduction of substances into the body,
not the failure to introduce substances.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Exhaustion doctrine—modification when claimant compromised by mental illness

Weiss v. Barribeau, et al., 853 F.3d 873 (7th Cir. 2017)

Seventh Circuit reverses the district court’s grant of summary judgment to prison officials on inmate’s Eighth Amendment claim, on the grounds of inmate’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies, finding that inmate’s capacity to make required timely administrative complaints and appeals was compromised by his mental illness and by the actions of prison officials in response to that illness.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 2

Criminal Sentencing; Mitigating Factors Due to Mental Illness

Wampler v. State, 67 N.E.3d 633 (Ind. 2017)

While finding no error in the sentencing decision of the trial court, the Indiana Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, reduces the sentence of an offender with a history of mental illness in recognition of the illness’s impact on the offender’s behavior.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 1

Death Penalty, Ineffective Assistance

Ellerbee v. State, 232 So.3d 909 (Fla. 2017)

The Supreme Court of Florida vacated a death sentence and granted a new penalty phase to the defendant because his counsel did not provide effective assistance at trial and the non-unanimous jury verdict regarding the sentence may have violated the Sixth Amendment.

Found in DMHL Volume 37, Issue 1

Virginia Capital Defendant Not Provided Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Just Because Defendant's Mental Health Expert Misdiagnosed Defendant

Bailey v. True, No. CR02-511 (E.D. Va. Apr. 15, 2003); 17(51) Virginia Lawyers Weekly 1288 (May 26, 2003)

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia refused to overturn the capital conviction of a defendant because of the purported ineffective assistance of counsel in presenting mental health evidence as a mitigating factor in the penalty phase of the trial.  The defendant's claim was characterized as being that his mental health expert had misdiagnosed him as having a personality disorder when he should have been diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Fired Employee Entitled to FMLA Leave if Change in Behavior Sufficient to Notify Reasonable Employer that Mentally Unable to Work Not Disturbed

Byrne v. Avon Products Inc., 328 F.3d 379 (7th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, Avon Products Inc. v. Byrne, 124 S. Ct. 327 (2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the Seventh Circuit that an employee should have been given leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rather than being fired if a change in the employee's behavior was sufficient to notify a reasonable employer that the employee (1) had a serious health condition or (2) was mentally unable to work or give notice of his or her need for FMLA leave.  Under FMLA, advance notice of the need for leave is required unless it is not "feasible."  In this case an employee was fired for sleeping on the job during the two weeks preceding a period of hospitalization for depression.  The Seventh Circuit concluded the employee could take to a jury his claim that his firing violated FMLA...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Reversal of Death Sentence: Counsel Failed to Adequately Investigate Defendant's Social History/Mental Health, Even Though Defendant Not Forthcoming and Opposed Investigation, Not Disturbed

Woodford v. Douglas, 316 F.3d 1079 (3d Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 124 S. Ct. 49 (2003)

Perhaps reflecting its decision in Wiggins (described above), the Supreme Court declined to review a Ninth Circuit ruling that a capital defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights when counsel failed to adequately investigate defendant's social history and mental health for information that could have been used as mitigating evidence at sentencing.  The defendant thus was entitled to have his death sentence vacated even though he had not been forthcoming with information about his social history and was opposed to an investigation of his mental health.  The Ninth Circuit ruled trial counsel had a duty to investigate a defendant's mental state if there was evidence to suggest, as was the case here, that the defendant was impaired and this duty was not absolved by the defendant's refusal to cooperate when there was a significant and readily discoverable alternative source of information available....

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Reversal of Capital Conviction and Death Sentence Because Counsel Failed to Investigate Defendant's Mental Health and Drug Abuse Problems Not Disturbed

Jennings v. Woodford, 290 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, Woodford v. Jennings, 123 S. Ct. 2638 (2003); 71(50) U.S. Law Week 3795 (July 1, 2003)

Perhaps reflecting its decision in Wiggins (described above), the Supreme Court declined to review a Ninth Circuit ruling that overturned a capital conviction and imposition of the death penalty for ineffective assistance of counsel because defendant's attorney failed to discover and present easily available evidence of the defendant's mental health and drug abuse problems despite knowing that the defendant had such problems.  The defendant was a habitual, heavy methamphetamine user, had attempted suicide, was described by a psychiatrist as schizophrenic, had a long history of injuring himself and pouring liquids in the resulting wounds causing gangrene, and had been involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation because he appeared catatonic. In addition, a number of individuals told the attorney they thought something was "seriously wrong" with the defendant...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Dangerous Student May Be Suspended Pending Psychiatric Evaluation Not Disturbed

Roslyn Union Free Sch. Dist. v. Geffrey W., 293 A.2d 662 (N.Y. App. Div. 2002), cert. denied, Waxman v. Roslyn Union Free Sch. Dist., 123 S. Ct. 2077 (2003); 71(44) U.S. Law Week 3719 (May 20, 2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a decision by a New York appellate court that upheld the suspension of a public school student from school and his placement in homebound instruction pending the completion of a psychiatric evaluation of the student and review by the school district's committee on special education.  Under New York law, a school district may not unilaterally change a student's placement from regular instruction to homebound instruction while proceedings to determine whether the student is disabled are pending, even when a student poses a danger to himself or others. However, the New York appellate court determined a school district is entitled to seek a judicial ruling to extend a student's suspension upon a showing that maintaining the student in his current placement is substantially likely to result in injury to the student or to others.  The New York court found that such a showing had been made when it was undisputed that the student had without permission run out of classrooms and school buildings dangerously close to the Long Island Expressway, chased other students in the classroom, hit teachers and students with either a folder or crumpled paper, and chewed on sharp objects while leaning back in his chair....

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Time Period File Malpractice Claim Asserting She Was Not Warned Mental Illness Medication Might Cause Birth Defects Begins at Time of Child's Birth, Not When Ultrasound First Showed Birth Defects

Bailey v. Khoury, 891 So. 2d 1268 (La. 2005)

Every jurisdiction  imposes a limit on how long individuals can wait to file a lawsuit that claims they were injured as the result of the malpractice of a health care provider.  This limit, which is typically one or two years in length, generally runs from the time individuals discover they have been injured. If they wait beyond this time, they are generally precluded from pursuing their claim...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Pedophilia with a Personality Disorder Sufficient Basis for Involuntary Commitment as a Sexually Violent Predator

Kilgore v. Garris, No. LS-1224-1, 2004 WL 3001162 (Va. Cir. Ct. 2004)

A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled that an individual fit the definition of a sexually violent predator provided by the Virginia Code and ordered his involuntary confinement.  Under the relevant statute, confinement as a sexually violent predator is limited to an individual who "because of a mental abnormality or personality disorder, finds it difficult to control his predatory behavior which makes him likely to engage in sexually violent acts." VA. CODE § 37.1-70.1...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Virginia School Board's Offer of Educational Placement That Employs the TEACCH Method Found to Be Inadequate for Young Boy Diagnosed as Severely Autistic

County Sch. Bd. v. Z.P., 399 F.3d 298 (4th Cir. 2005)

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all states receiving federal funds for education are required to provide disabled schoolchildren with a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE). To meet this requirement, educational instruction must be specially designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported by such services as are necessary to permit the child to benefit from the instruction. However, states are not required to provide the best possible education.  The adequacy of a program offered by a school system to meet the FAPE requirement is oftentimes the subject of litigation...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Parental Rights Terminated for Failure to Remedy Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence Issues that Adversely Affected Ability to Properly Parent Children

Carr v. James City County Div. of Soc. Servs., Nos. 0339-04-1 , 0499-04-1 , 2004 WL 1822374 (Va.
Ct. App. 2004)

It is not unusual for mental illness and substance abuse to figure prominently in a decision to remove a child from the custody of a parent, as well as in a decision to ultimately terminate parental rights. The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that a mother's failure to remedy issues associated with mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence that adversely affected her ability to properly parent her children provided a sufficient basis for terminating the mother's parental rights. The court indicated that the focus is not whether steps have been taken to remedy these issues, but what has been achieved as a result of these steps...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Dismissal of Lawsuit Asserting Licensure Testing Procedure for Professionals Violated ADA for Failing to Reasonably Accommodate Examinees Mental Disability Reversed, Remanded for Further Consideration

Feaster v. Florida, 846 So. 2d 1238 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003), vacated & remanded for further consideration in light of Tennessee v. Lane (2005)

Many professionals, including physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and attorneys, are required to be licensed in the state in which they desire to provide services. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits states from discriminating on the basis of a disability in providing access to their services, programs, or activities...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Privatization by Puerto Rico of Prison Inmates' Medical and Mental Health Services Upheld for the Time Being; Ruling Not Disturbed

Feliciano v. Rullan, 378 F.3d 42 (1st Cir. 2004)

Since the 1970s, class action lawsuits have been brought against many states challenging the medical and mental health care provided in their correctional systems.  In part because many of these lawsuits deeply enmeshed the federal courts in the supervision of prisons and jails for an extended period of time, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996 to curb the involvement of the federal courts in day-to-day prison  management...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Death Sentence Reversed Because Prosecution Failed to Provide Defense with a Parole File Containing Exculpatory Mental Health Evidence; Ruling Not Disturbed

Head v. Stripling, 590 S.E.2d 122 (Ga. 2003)

In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court established that the prosecution has a responsibility to provide the defense with material, exculpatory evidence in its possession and that a failure to do so is grounds for overturning a conviction. Questions have periodically arisen over when this responsibility to disclose extends to evidence pertaining to the defendant's mental status...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Defendant Who Received Direct Command from God to Murder Is Unsuccessful in Raising Deific Decree Defense Because the Command Did Not Overcome His Cognitive Ability to Tell Right from Wrong

State v. Turgeon, 120 Wash. App. 1050 (2004)

Most states offer an insanity defense to defendants accused of committing a crime, although the nature of that defense varies somewhat from state to state. The State of Washington has adopted the M'Naghten test and will find a defendant legally insane if the defendant can establish that as a result of mental disease or defect the defendant was unable to perceive the nature and quality of the act or was unable to tell the difference between right and wrong with respect to the particular act charged...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1

Mentally Disabled Son Can Recover Damages for Wrongful Death of His Father, Even Though He Believes His Father Is Still Alive

Knowles v. Superior Court of San Diego County, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 700 (Ct. App. 2004)

A California man died four days after a surgical procedure.  The man's family asserted that the death was the result of professional medical negligence during the surgery and filed a wrongful death action. One of the man's sons is mentally disabled due to a head injury and as a result believes his father is still alive.  Nevertheless, through his guardian ad litem, this son joined in the lawsuit.  In response, the defendant argued that because this son believed his father was alive, he had suffered no damages from his father's death and thus was not entitled to pursue this claim...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1