NCLW Trial Reports 1993
Suicide – Wrongful Death – Premature Discharge – Insurance Ran Out
Type of Case: Suit was brought by the parents of a 16-year-old boy who killed himself after being dismissed from a private psychiatric hospital in Winston-Salem when his insurance ran out.
Type of Injuries/Damages: Death
Age of Plaintiff: 16 years-old
Court/Case No.: Muse v. Charter Hospital; Guilford County Superior Court
Awarded/Settled: Tried by jury
Date Case Concluded: Dec. 11, 1991
Settlement: $7 million
Insurance Carrier: n/a
Other Useful Information: The boy spent 32 days in the hospital for treatment of severe depression and suicidal tendencies. He was sent home two days after his health insurance benefits were used up. Two weeks later, he killed himself by taking an overdose of the anti-psychotic medication prescribed by the physician who discharged him.
The parents sued the hospital and its out-of-state parent corporation for the wrongful death of their son. The suit alleged that the hospital’s discharge policy was based on economic considerations, not on whether the boy was well enough to leave. (The physician settled out of court for approximately $90,000.)
The jury found that the hospital had no written policy requiring doctors to discharge patients when funds expired, but that it did have practices that encouraged doctors to do so; that the family had contributed to the death of their son, being dysfunctional, with a history of suicide and incest; that a therapist at the hospital did not provide adequate family therapy; that the therapist failed to warn the family of their son’s condition; and that the hospital allowed an unqualified and undertrained employee to give the son a psychological test.
The jury awarded the plaintiffs $7 million, including $2 million in punitive damages against the hospital and $4 million in punitives against its parent corporation.
Attorney(s) for Plaintiff: Wade Byrd and H. Dolph Berry, BERRY & BYRD, Fayetteville; Robert A. Bell, Fayetteville