A person who is psychologically sound being involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility seems like the plot to a horror novel. Unfortunately, this is something that happens in real life and more often than you would think. If you were put in a mental health facility against your will because of someone's negligence or misuse of the law, here's what you need to know about suing for compensation for damages related to the incident.
About Involuntary Admissions
Most states have laws that let concerned parties use legal means to have people suffering from mental illness placed in psychiatric hospitals. These laws serve the practical purpose of providing a way to place people whose illnesses causes them to become a substantial danger to themselves or others into facilities where they can receive treatment.
However, the person's situation must meet specific criteria for involuntary commitment. Though it varies between states, those requirements generally are:
- The person must have a diagnosed mental illness
- The mental illness must interfere with the person's ability to care or make decisions for him- or herself
- Confinement in the facility is the least restrictive option
- There is a likelihood the person will self-harm or hurt others, and the danger must be imminent and/or ongoing
Typically, all of these factors must be true and verified by neutral third-parties such as physicians and mental health professionals. If any of these factors can be proven to be false, the affected person may have a case for damages.
Personal Injury Torts
The exact tort or legal theory you can use to sue for compensation for damages in cases of involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility will depend on the circumstances of the case. For instance, you may be able to sue for medical malpractice if the examining doctor or psychiatrist misdiagnosed your condition and caused you to be committed to the facility as a result.
An example of this is a Long Island woman alleges she was detained for eight days in a mental health facility because she claimed the president of the United States followed her on Twitter, a claim that happened to be true at the time. However, based on available information, it appears the doctor involved in the case used the claim to diagnose the woman as suffering from delusions and bipolar disorder, which lead to her being detained at the facility.
To successfully sue for medical malpractice, you must show:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship, meaning the doctor agreed to diagnose/treat you
- The doctor was negligent in carrying out his or her duties
- The doctor's negligent actions (or inaction) caused harm
- The injury caused damages or losses such as physical pain, medical bills, or mental anguish
If you can prove the people involved intentionally misled the court and other involved persons about your condition for the express purpose of having you involuntarily committed, you could sue for false imprisonment and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A New Hampshire woman alleges she was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility in retaliation for reporting her coworker's theft of company services. According to her complaint, the vice president of human resources called the police and claimed the woman threatened to harm her coworkers, her family, and herself. The claim was based on statements of frustration the woman had made about her son-in-law on previous occasions.
However, to have her involuntarily committed, the hospital was required to have the woman diagnosed with a mental illness. The woman was also supposed to have a court appearance within three days of being committed to determine if there was cause for the action. Neither of these things occurred. As a result, the woman was detained for about six days before being released. The case is ongoing.
Proving Damages is the Key
Regardless of the tort you use to file your lawsuit, you'll need to show you suffered damages and losses as a result of the involuntary commitment. Typically, these will be compensatory damages such as:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of earning capacity due to job loss or time away from work
- Expenses related to family care that you otherwise wouldn't have incurred (e.g. child care)
- Pain and suffering
You can prove these losses by presenting receipts and having experts testify on your behalf.
To protect your rights and increase your chances of winning in court, it's best to consult with a personal injury attorney who can help you develop and present the best case possible.