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February 10, 2015 by The Parrish Law Firm

Psychiatric Malpractice Lawsuits – Causes

The treatment of Psychiatric patients is often a difficult process for both doctor and patient. Due to the difficulty of this type of treatment, standard of care guidelines have been put in place to help doctors determine the correct diagnoses and prescribe the proper treatments. These guidelines also cover providing the best standard of care for patients, and protecting the patient and other individuals from harm.

In spite of these guidelines, patients are often at risk because of errors made by health care professionals. Medical malpractice in psychiatric fields is as common as other medical fields however, it will often involve more than just the traditional doctor or patient.

Examples of Psychiatric Negligence

  • Failure to conduct an adequate suicide risk assessment. The Standard of Care mandates that physicians conduct a complete risk of suicide assessment on every potentially suicidal patient. If a doctors fails to properly assess the patient considering all the relevant factors such as patient history, age, gender, sexual orientation, employment and living standards, then he is at risk for potential litigation.
  • Failure to prevent a patient’s suicide. If a suicide risk assessment has been performed and the professional has followed the guidelines and it was then determined that there is a legitimate risk of suicide, a doctor must take steps to prevent that suicide from occurring. If the doctor fails in this task, then the doctor could be judged guilty of malpractice.
  • Improper diagnosis or treatment. While some believe that many psychiatric diagnoses are not well defined, this is not the case. All mental health professionals should be able to come to a clear diagnosis assuming that the proper patient assessment has occurred. If an improper diagnosis is made or if a doctor has prescribed the incorrect treatment, a patient or their family have a strong case for malpractice against the doctor or mental health professional.
  • Duty to warn. Courts have mandated that if a patient makes threats during sessions against another person, that the clinician has a duty to warn the targeted person of the potential threat if they believe it is a credible threat. This can be a difficult determination for the mental health professional as they must carefully balance doctor/patient confidentiality with their responsibility for the safety of others. If a patient acts on these threats, the victim’s families may have a reasonable malpractice case to pursue.
  • Boundary violations. It has been fairly recently established that there must be a boundary between healthcare professionals and their patients. If the professional violates these boundaries or attempts to use their position as a means to pursue unlawful sexual encounters with their patients, they are guilty of malpractice and a serious ethical violation.
  • False repressed memories. A common treatment that patients receive is the process of revealing past memories that have been repressed. It is the belief of many psychiatric health care professionals that these memories are the source of mental health problems for many patients. If false memories are revealed and it, in turn, causes irreparable harm to the patient or other individuals, the mental health care professional can be held liable for creating these false memories.


Courts are increasingly recognizing the standards of care that are required for mental health care professionals to follow and that, in some areas, their responsibilities can extend far beyond their patients.

It is very important that mental health care professionals provide the care within the applicable standard at all times and maintain the safety of not only their patients, but any individual that have been threatened by the patient. Failure to provide this type of care may be grounds for malpractice and mental health care professionals should and are often held liable for these mistakes.

The Parrish Law Firm, PLLC medical malpractice attorney works with northern Virginia citizens who have suffered from a health care provider’s misdiagnosis and are looking for fair compensation for their injuries. Contact us today for a free case consultation, or call us at 703-906-4229.

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A representative of the Parrish Law Firm, PLLC researched and wrote this article with Mr. Parrish’s consent. If you have any questions regarding the legal implications of what you have just read, please send us your question by clicking here so we can have our attorney review it.

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