Perhaps more than any other area of medicine, mental illness is an art to diagnose and treat. This makes psychiatrists and other mental health professionals subject to easy criticism. Additionally, psychiatry is oftentimes a legal issue related to disability, workers' compensation, closed head injuries suffered in automobile accidents, and cases involving violence, including homicide and suicide. Thus, plaintiff-oriented lawyers are constantly looking over the shoulder of mental health professionals.
The Kitch firm's observation is that this mix leads to five types of cases into which most psychiatric lawsuits can be classified:
1. Drug Therapy. Because psychiatric medications are becoming increasingly prevalent as therapy of choice, and because drug use is prone to side effects and significant costs, many cases involve allegations of either excessive or insufficient efficient dosages of medications, as well as allegations that other medications would have been a preferred treatment.
2. Incorrect Diagnosis. Many mental illnesses are inter-related. Anxiety is linked to depression, which is linked to obsessive compulsive behaviors, etc. Because psychiatric diagnoses do not fit neatly into compartments, it is often a very easy specialty for others to criticize.
3. Confidentiality Issues. Due to the stigma that is still attached to mental illness, issues related to violations of privacy and confidentiality often arise.
4. Duty to Warn. Any time someone is violently injured by someone who has treated with a mental health professional, they are potentially subject to a lawsuit for failure to prevent such violence from occurring. This duty to warn can conflict with the need for protecting patient confidence.
5. Abuses of Therapeutic Process. As a result of the emotional state of many mental health patients, these patients are susceptible to abuses by professionals. They are also prone to misjudging a practitioner's intentions. For example, allegations of psychiatrists taking advantage of patients for sexual favors are commonplace. Even more than in other areas of medicine, this abuse of the therapeutic process has great potential for lawsuit.
The Kitch firm has been a leader in the defense of medical malpractice cases for over 35 years. During the course of this time, as the volume of medical malpractice cases multiplied, it became apparent that, in order to provide an adequate defense, certain clinical areas required specialization on the part of attorneys. For this reason, the Kitch firm provides attorneys with specific experience who can more effectively represent mental health professionals. The Kitch attorneys who focus on these cases have spent years learning the medicine of psychiatry, establishing a panel of expert consultants, building a solid library of medical texts and journals, and developing effective strategies of defense to allow the firm to aggressively and effectively defend all five classes of cases, as well as other matters.
The firm has also been actively involved with a national psychiatric association on defense issues, and regularly presents to numerous national, state and local psychiatrist and mental health professional groups on mental health and liability issues.
Our work for mental health professionals includes providing risk management advice, evaluating potential claims presuit and aggressively defending malpractice cases. Using our extensive mental health knowledge base, we also represent mental health professionals in all types of licensure challenges.