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Failure to Protect Persons Who Cannot Protect Themselves

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a caller who said “Mom has struggled with mental illness but is fine with meds, but she became extremely paranoid when she missed her medication doses, so we took her to a care facility, they were supposed to immobilize her per doctor’s orders, but they didn’t and she was disoriented and fell and broke her hip, what are our legal options?”

Our first reaction is: what a tragic situation. Obviously, the family wanted and needed medical help, and they sought help, and probably went home after they got Mom admitted and felt relieved, only to get a call and learn that proper care was not given.

In general, under the law a duty of care may arise from a special relation between the actor and the other which gives to the other a right of protection. For example, when a mental health professional takes charge of a person known to be incapacitated and in need of protection, the professional has a duty to protect.

Indeed, if a person is known to be at risk of self-harm, or unsteady and prone to fall and not able to think clearly, the duty to protect them is breached when the mental health professional fails to protect.

This kind of scenario plays itself out quite frequently. In Indiana a 72-hour hold is nearly always automatic if a patient has been found to be at risk to themselves. But mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists make mistakes. When they do, they can be held accountable and made to answer in a civil court for harm they let happen on their watch.

Many times, we have represented family members who worked to get a relative into a 72 hour hold only to have the health care system make mistakes putting their loved ones at risk. One case that comes to mind involved a person who was held expressly due to suicide threats and was to be on 24-hour watch, but the facility failed to watch the person as required, and the person whose family did everything to protect them, was permitted to end their own life. A second case involved a case much like the caller where the family brought an elderly patient in due to paranoid adverse reaction to medications, and person was to be restrained because they would wander off, but the facility failed to restrain the patient and they were severely injured trying to escape the care facility.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth