Psychiatrist Not Immune for Death of Patient by Suicide

By Michael Zerres

Can Still Be Responsible If He/She Fails to Meet the Standard of Care

In Marshall v. Klebanov, the Supreme Court of NJ decided on 7-26-06 that a psychiatrist is not necessarily statutorily immune for a patient’s suicide.

NJSA 2A:62A-16a provides that “[a]ny person who is licensed…to practice…psychiatry…is immune from any civil liability for a patient’ s voluntary act against…himself unless the practitioner has incurred a duty to warn and protect…” The immunity language of this statute was found not to apply to Dr. Klebanov. On 1-7-00, at a first office visit, Dr. Klebanov diagnosed Ms. Marshall with severe major depression and found that she had suicidal thoughts. Medication was prescribed and a follow up appointment was ultimately made for 2-4-00 (almost one month later). Two days before the appointment, the patient committed suicide. It was alleged that Dr. Klebanov abandoned his patient by not seeing her sooner or referring her elsewhere for treatment. The Supreme Court held that the immunity provisions of NJSA2A:62A-16 does not shield a practitioner from potential liability if he/she abandons a seriously depressed patient and/or fails to treat the patient in accordance with the accepted standards of care in the field. The matter can now proceed to trial.

Related Articles: