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  1. #1
    galbrecht is offline Junior Member
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    Oct 2007
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    Wrongful commitment and personal injury

    What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? Minnesota

    My wife is currently under a stay of commitment in Minnesota, and is now being shuffled around to various care facilities and group homes. She's in her 50's, and had never had a previous mental illness diagnosis prior to a month ago, or any prior interactions with mental health professionals. I do not believe her to be a danger to herself, but we fell into a few "traps" during the commitment process, so here we are. People taking care of my wife can't understand why she's being held, because she doesn't exhibit symptoms of her supposed illness. We have private insurance, and I'm suspicious someone somewhere is profiting from it. At this point, I'm seriously considering a lawsuit for two reasons: 1) safeguards in place for the mentally ill were "negotiated around" during the commitment process by my wife's court-appointed lawyer, and 2) negligence, due to complications from a broken ankle that was sustained during the incident that landed her in the psych ward. I'd like to get opinions from others who may have been in similar situations before with the commitment process.

    First, here’s a little background about what got my wife into trouble. My wife and I are separated and live in separate residences. She was home alone in bed one night about a month ago, when she heard what she thought was an intruder in the lower level of the house around 2:00 a.m. In reality, it was my daughter who had come home late without her keys, and made noise trying to get in the house... my daughter gave up and left after a short time. The power was out in the house at the time this occurred, and the phone wasn't working, so no way to call 911... so, my wife tried to escape by climbing out a second story window, breaking her ankle when she fell.

    Now, my wife had been showing symptoms of paranoia the previous two weeks (nothing too serious... just worried that people were following her), and I shared that information over the phone with the police officer on the scene. He decided to transport my wife to a local hospital that provided psychiatric services, even though she preferred another hospital. A struggle ensued, and they had to forcibly restrain my wife to transport her. The officer wrote in his report that she was delusional, and had jumped from a window to avoid an imaginary intruder. This information would be repeated in the future, in all the court documents and psychiatric assessments that followed, and we've been unable to clear up that misunderstanding.

    Upon arriving at the hospital, my wife was in the emergency room for 10 hours because of her broken ankle. While in the emergency room, she wasn't given anything to eat or drink (which I didn't realize until the end of the day). She was put on a 72 hour emergency hold, and over the next 48 hours was shuffled to 3 more locations within the hospital. She finally ending up in the psych ward, which was her new home for the next 3 weeks. During the first week in the psych ward she refused to take the anti-psychotic medication they wanted her to take. She maintained cordial relationships with the staff and other patients, but the mental health system has a way of tightening it's grip when a patient resists, so they moved forward with the commitment process.

    She was still refusing to take medication at her pre-commitment hearing a week later. Her court-appointed lawyer negotiated with the county attorney behind-the-scenes, and there was an agreement that she'd be released in 2-3 days IF she agreed to take the medication and sign the court papers... the court-appointed lawyer even made reference to the agreement, when talking to the judge in court. We agreed, and signed the court documents, and my wife began taking the medication. Unfortunately, they didn't release my wife as agreed, and things progressed to the psych exam and commitment hearing a week later. The psych exams were supposed to be done by two independent psychiatrists, but instead were done by two of the original psychiatrist's colleagues, who repeated and rubber-stamped many of the same conclusions. Then, rather than having the commitment hearing the following day as scheduled, my wife's court-appointed attorney moved the hearing up one day, and held the hearing right after the psych exams, without me in attendance. Just as before, they told my wife she'd be released the next day if she just signed the commitment papers... so she signed the papers. The end result was that my wife went through the entire commitment process, and I never had a chance to say anything in her defense. It's now two weeks later, and she's still being held under a stay of commitment.

    With regard to her ankle injury, my wife refused to have the surgery done at the hospital, because the conditions were so uncomfortable in the psych ward. Unknown to me, the psychiatrist attributed her refusal to her "mental illness", and thought she was afraid of the hospital's surgeon. Unfortunately, he didn't bother to talk to me the entire time she was in the psych ward, and I only spoke with him by phone on the day my wife was moved from the psych ward to a transitional care unit. I was astounded that he had come to that conclusion, because I had made it clear to the social worker that the hospital was the problem, not the individual surgeon. I continue to be amazed that a psychiatrist would move to commit a person, and never talk to their spouse to get more information.

    Since we were led to believe that her release from the psych ward was always just around the corner, we continued to delay the surgery so we could have it done at another location. Eventually, they agreed to let my wife leave the psych ward temporarily to get a second opinion, followed a few days later by another pass to go and get the surgery done. The day of the surgery, I arrived at the psych ward shortly after a nurse that had been arguing with my wife to try to convince her she had a serious mental illness... the nurse met me outside the psych ward, and told me that the pass for the surgery wasn't going to happen... an argument ensued, the social worker intervened, and we were eventually allowed to go.

    The surgery was done 23 days after the ankle had been broken. The surgeon used a plate and a half dozen screws on both sides of the ankle to stabilize the bones. He was extremly concerned about the mushiness of the bones, and stated that we had waited too long to have the surgery done. At this point, it's too early to tell what the outcome will be because we're only two weeks out from the surgery... but there's a possibility that she could have a permanent limp if it doesn't heal properly.

    Does anyone have a similar experience they've been through that they could share? Given the deception during the commitment process, is it possible we could sue to get her released from the commitment? And what about the ankle... should I wait a month or two to see how it heals before deciding on legal action for that? I've never sued anyone before... what kind of expenses would we incur? Is it possible to do this on a contingency basis, so there wouldn't be any fees? Anyone know of any possible lawyers in Minnesota who deal with this kind of thing?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.
    Last edited by galbrecht; 09-06-2008 at 09:07 AM.
  2. #2
    Gail in Georgia is offline Senior Member
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    Unfortunately, you started the psychiatric ball rolling when you admitted to the police officer that your wife HAD been exhibiting symptoms of paranoia for at least 2 weeks prior to the jumping out of a two story event. Your admittance of that gave the police little choice but to bring her to a hospital that offered psychiatric services.

    In addition, it was the refusal by your wife to have the surgery done at the particular hospital she was taken to that delayed this surgery and possible contributed to further damage than if it had been undertaken earlier.

    Finally, you may blow off the idea that someone thinking they're being followed is "nothing too serious" but there are some pretty clear indications that yes, your wife may truly be suffering from a mental illness.

    Gail
  3. #3
    barry1817 is offline Senior Member
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    problems

    Quote Originally Posted by galbrecht View Post
    What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? Minnesota

    My wife is currently under a stay of commitment in Minnesota, and is now being shuffled around to various care facilities and group homes. She's in her 50's, and had never had a previous mental illness diagnosis prior to a month ago, or any prior interactions with mental health professionals. I do not believe her to be a danger to herself, but we fell into a few "traps" during the commitment process, so here we are. People taking care of my wife can't understand why she's being held, because she doesn't exhibit symptoms of her supposed illness. We have private insurance, and I'm suspicious someone somewhere is profiting from it. At this point, I'm seriously considering a lawsuit for two reasons: 1) safeguards in place for the mentally ill were "negotiated around" during the commitment process by my wife's court-appointed lawyer, and 2) negligence, due to complications from a broken ankle that was sustained during the incident that landed her in the psych ward. I'd like to get opinions from others who may have been in similar situations before with the commitment process.

    First, here’s a little background about what got my wife into trouble. My wife and I are separated and live in separate residences. She was home alone in bed one night about a month ago, when she heard what she thought was an intruder in the lower level of the house around 2:00 a.m. In reality, it was my daughter who had come home late without her keys, and made noise trying to get in the house... my daughter gave up and left after a short time. The power was out in the house at the time this occurred, and the phone wasn't working, so no way to call 911... so, my wife tried to escape by climbing out a second story window, breaking her ankle when she fell.

    Now, my wife had been showing symptoms of paranoia the previous two weeks (nothing too serious... just worried that people were following her), and I shared that information over the phone with the police officer on the scene. He decided to transport my wife to a local hospital that provided psychiatric services, even though she preferred another hospital. A struggle ensued, and they had to forcibly restrain my wife to transport her. The officer wrote in his report that she was delusional, and had jumped from a window to avoid an imaginary intruder. This information would be repeated in the future, in all the court documents and psychiatric assessments that followed, and we've been unable to clear up that misunderstanding.

    Upon arriving at the hospital, my wife was in the emergency room for 10 hours because of her broken ankle. While in the emergency room, she wasn't given anything to eat or drink (which I didn't realize until the end of the day). She was put on a 72 hour emergency hold, and over the next 48 hours was shuffled to 3 more locations within the hospital. She finally ending up in the psych ward, which was her new home for the next 3 weeks. During the first week in the psych ward she refused to take the anti-psychotic medication they wanted her to take. She maintained cordial relationships with the staff and other patients, but the mental health system has a way of tightening it's grip when a patient resists, so they moved forward with the commitment process.

    She was still refusing to take medication at her pre-commitment hearing a week later. Her court-appointed lawyer negotiated with the county attorney behind-the-scenes, and there was an agreement that she'd be released in 2-3 days IF she agreed to take the medication and sign the court papers... the court-appointed lawyer even made reference to the agreement, when talking to the judge in court. We agreed, and signed the court documents, and my wife began taking the medication. Unfortunately, they didn't release my wife as agreed, and things progressed to the psych exam and commitment hearing a week later. The psych exams were supposed to be done by two independent psychiatrists, but instead were done by two of the original psychiatrist's colleagues, who repeated and rubber-stamped many of the same conclusions. Then, rather than having the commitment hearing the following day as scheduled, my wife's court-appointed attorney moved the hearing up one day, and held the hearing right after the psych exams, without me in attendance. Just as before, they told my wife she'd be released the next day if she just signed the commitment papers... so she signed the papers. The end result was that my wife went through the entire commitment process, and I never had a chance to say anything in her defense. It's now two weeks later, and she's still being held under a stay of commitment.

    With regard to her ankle injury, my wife refused to have the surgery done at the hospital, because the conditions were so uncomfortable in the psych ward. Unknown to me, the psychiatrist attributed her refusal to her "mental illness", and thought she was afraid of the hospital's surgeon. Unfortunately, he didn't bother to talk to me the entire time she was in the psych ward, and I only spoke with him by phone on the day my wife was moved from the psych ward to a transitional care unit. I was astounded that he had come to that conclusion, because I had made it clear to the social worker that the hospital was the problem, not the individual surgeon. I continue to be amazed that a psychiatrist would move to commit a person, and never talk to their spouse to get more information.

    Since we were led to believe that her release from the psych ward was always just around the corner, we continued to delay the surgery so we could have it done at another location. Eventually, they agreed to let my wife leave the psych ward temporarily to get a second opinion, followed a few days later by another pass to go and get the surgery done. The day of the surgery, I arrived at the psych ward shortly after a nurse that had been arguing with my wife to try to convince her she had a serious mental illness... the nurse met me outside the psych ward, and told me that the pass for the surgery wasn't going to happen... an argument ensued, the social worker intervened, and we were eventually allowed to go.

    The surgery was done 23 days after the ankle had been broken. The surgeon used a plate and a half dozen screws on both sides of the ankle to stabilize the bones. He was extremly concerned about the mushiness of the bones, and stated that we had waited too long to have the surgery done. At this point, it's too early to tell what the outcome will be because we're only two weeks out from the surgery... but there's a possibility that she could have a permanent limp if it doesn't heal properly.

    Does anyone have a similar experience they've been through that they could share? Given the deception during the commitment process, is it possible we could sue to get her released from the commitment? And what about the ankle... should I wait a month or two to see how it heals before deciding on legal action for that? I've never sued anyone before... what kind of expenses would we incur? Is it possible to do this on a contingency basis, so there wouldn't be any fees? Anyone know of any possible lawyers in Minnesota who deal with this kind of thing?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    I just hate it when lawyers and judges step in to decide the health conditions of another person. This whole situation stinks, but I don't have any clue as to how to make it better.
  4. #4
    galbrecht is offline Junior Member
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gail in Georgia View Post
    Unfortunately, you started the psychiatric ball rolling when you admitted to the police officer that your wife HAD been exhibiting symptoms of paranoia for at least 2 weeks prior to the jumping out of a two story event. Your admittance of that gave the police little choice but to bring her to a hospital that offered psychiatric services.

    In addition, it was the refusal by your wife to have the surgery done at the particular hospital she was taken to that delayed this surgery and possible contributed to further damage than if it had been undertaken earlier.

    Finally, you may blow off the idea that someone thinking they're being followed is "nothing too serious" but there are some pretty clear indications that yes, your wife may truly be suffering from a mental illness.

    Gail
    Thanks for the comments Gail. With regard to your first point, I don't disagree... the officer made the right decision.

    With regard to her refusal to have surgery at the hospital, I'd be interested in hearing a legal opinion on whether or not a person on a temporary mental illness hold has a right to see their own medical doctor? We wanted to get a 2nd opinion from our own doctor, which eventually happened... unfortunately, they made it very difficult for her, and the surgery ended up being delayed too long.

    I didn't intend to "blow off" the problem with her thinking that she was being followed, and I'm not saying she's not mentally ill. What I am saying, is that from what I'm seeing, and the feedback I'm receiving from others who are taking care of her, the symptoms are fairly mild, and she's not a danger to herself. In order to be committed, a person must be a danger to themselves or others, and this situation just didn't pass that test.

    The main concerns I have are: 1) safeguards in place for the mentally ill were "negotiated around" during the commitment process by my wife's court-appointed lawyer, and 2) negligence, due to complications from a broken ankle that was sustained during the incident that landed her in the psych ward.
  5. #5
    lya
    lya is offline Senior Member
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    Jun 2007
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    I may have missed the information about the husband's being the one to make medical decisions for the wife since the wife is/was involuntarily committed to a psych ward at a hospital. It seems a conflict in diagnosis (similar to incompetent) and in being allowed to refuse surgery.

    What happened? Why was the husband not involved in all medical decisions, especially as regards the broken ankle? I guess the answers don't really matter, as the patient was not going to be forced to have non-lifesaving, non-emergency surgery and the outcome was going to be the same. It stands to reason, though, if the husband had been involved in the manner and capacity in which he should have been involved, he wouldn't be here now, posting on this forum.

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