Estate of Maudsley v. Meta Services (CA1 6/23/11)

The good part about the opinion in this psychiatric-malpractice case is that even though it’s from Division One the standard-of-review section takes up only a footnote. But then there’s the rest of it to deal with.

Defendants provide psychiatric care. Maudsley was taken to them for evaluation after acting strangely at ASU.  The examining psychiatrist recognized him as a psychotic but before admitting him allowed him to go across the street to a hospital emergency room to take care of a foot injury. Maudsley promised to come back but, naturally, he didn’t; that night he was hit while crossing a street and eventually died. Turned out he was already a patient of this psychiatric organization, apparently under its contract with the county to provide indigent care, and that it had on the same day filed a petition for court-ordered evaluation of him. The doctor who evaluated him on the ASU visit didn’t know that and purported to think that he was a “voluntary patient” (the evidence was in conflict; the person who brought Maudsley in filled out the proper forms and testified to being told that enough had been done to admit him).

His parents sued. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they had no doctor-patient relationship with Maudsley and thus no duty to him. The trial court granted it.

The Court of Appeals first deals briefly with a few niggling details, such as whether there was evidence of proximate cause (the court gets past that by taking an expansive view of an affidavit that doesn’t appear to have been written with the subject in mind) and the fact that it doesn’t really know the nature and relationship of the corporate defendants (it blames that on them and decides, essentially, to ignore the problem).

The court eventually concludes that there was a question of fact about a doctor-patient relationship.

But what it really wants to do, and so what it does first, is to hold that defendants owed Maudsley a duty of care as a matter of public policy resulting from certain mental-health statutes. The analysis isn’t particularly convincing, consisting of a recital of several statutes followed by a somewhat abrupt conclusion about their supposed public-policy implications. But the upshot seems to be that outfits authorized to conduct mental-health screening evaluations (as defendants were) owe a doctor-patient duty to everyone who comes through the door.

(link to opinion)