United Hospital Immune from Suit After Turning Away Teen Who Had Attempted Suicide and Later Killed Himself

February 14, 2015

On May 10, 2010, Kirk Lloyd, age 17, tried to commit suicide by wrapping himself in a blanket and setting it on fire. When his mother entered his bedroom, the fire was put out and Kirk assured his mother that the fire was an accident. The next day he admitted to his mother that he had in fact been attempting to commit suicide, and they went to United Hospital in St. Paul to have him admitted to the adolescent psychiatric unit.

 

Although both a counselor and physician determined that Kirk should be admitted to the unit, he waited for hours in the emergency room until hospital staff determined not to admit him and discharge him to home. Kirk committed suicide two days later.

 

Kirk's mother, Melinda Blinkey, commenced a medical malpractice lawsuit against Allina Health System and various healthcare providers, alleging they were negligent in failing to admit her son. Defendants moved for dismissal, claiming that they there were immune from suit under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act (CTA), Minn. Stat. 253B.23, subd. 4. The district court denied the motion, and defendants appealed.

 

On February 9, 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, in a published decision, held that Minn. Stat. 253B.23 immunized defendants from suit. The statute provides immunity to "[a]ll persons acting in good faith . . . who act pursuant to any provision of this chapter or who procedurally or physically assist in the commitment of any individual pursuant to this chapter . . . . " The court rejected the contention that the immunity provision applies only to commitment decisions and held that it extends to all acts covered the the CTA, including Minn. Stat. 253B.04, which addresses circumstances where patients seek voluntary admission to a mental health unit. Binkley v. Allina Health System et. al., A14-0794 (Feb. 9, 2015).

 

It is not yet known whether the Minnesota Supreme Court will review the case. One thing, however, is clear. Whether or not the Court of Appeals correctly interpreted the immunity provision of the CTA, hospitals should not have blanket immunity from suit if they negligently deny hospital admission to actively suicidal patients who voluntarily seek admission.  When hospitals are not held accountable for substandard care, hospitals have little incentive to provide quality care and act in the best interests of the patient. If the Supreme Court does not reverse the Court of Appeals, then our legislature should fix the statute to correct this problem.

 

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