Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (6)7 Jul 98

 

Quick Summary: Premature release of a dangerous psychiatric patient can be grounds for a civil lawsuit.

In this case the interests of justice outweigh the confidentiality of the patient’s medical records.

The hospital cannot escape civil liability by hiding behind the patient’s right to confidentiality.

The judge will review the medical records in chambers and will release to the attorney for the family of the deceased the portions of the records that bear on their claim the patient was released from psychiatric confinement despite a known propensity to do harm to others.  SUPREME COURT, KINGS COUNTY, NEW YORK, 1998.

 

   An innocent person was pushed onto the subway tracks in front of a train by a former psychiatric patient and killed. The family sued the transit authority. They also sued the hospital authority for releasing the patient prematurely and for not seeing that he got appropriate follow-up mental health care.

   The Kings County New York Supreme Court ruled that premature release of a dangerous psychiatric patient can be grounds for a civil lawsuit. The family would be permitted access to the patient’s mental health treatment records insofar as the records were needed to prove their case. Lee v. New York City Transit Authority, 668 N.Y.S.2d 1014 (N.Y. Sup., 1998).