Doctor liability for involuntarily committing her on the day of her son’s funeral
Leslie Schilling sued her doctor for having her involuntarily committed to a mental health institution based on her husband’s claims that she was suicidal and without visiting her face-to-face within 24 hours. The husband then used the incident as evidence in divorce and custody proceedings. Also, the commitment occurred on the day of her son’s funeral and her husband deceived her to get her to go to the hospital. Once, there she was strip searched and she refused medication because she did not want to be made into zombie.
A jury trial resulted in an award of 65,000 dollars but the trial judge overturned the jury’s verdict. Here, on appeal to the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, the Court reverses the trial court and reinstates the jury verdict. A vindication for the woman’s civil rights and for the rights of anyone who would be accused suicidal and committed to a Louisiana mental institution against their will.
LESLIE SCHILLING VERSUS LYNN W. AURICH, PH.D., ET AL.
COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, THIRD CIRCUIT
11-1325 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/30/12); 2012 La. App. LEXIS 745
May 30, 2012, Decided
Judge Gremillion for the Court:
Leslie was involuntary committed to psychiatric care by Dr. Aurich on August 15, 1995, the same day as her seventeen-year-old son’s (Trey) funeral at which her then-husband, Herbert Schilling, removed his wedding band, placed it on their deceased son’s hand, and announced to Leslie that the marriage was over.
Dr. Aurich did not conduct a face-to-face interview with Leslie before committing her to the care of Charter Cypress Hospital. A medical review panel found this failure was a breach of the standard of care.
Leslie filed suit in September 1999.1 Following a five day trial in August 2010, the jury found that Dr. Aurich breached the standard of care owed to Leslie and awarded her $50,000 for mental anguish and $15,000 for loss of enjoyment of life. Dr. Aurich filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and/or a motion for new trial. The trial court granted Dr. Aurich’s motion … Leslie now appeals.
Leslie said that while in the institution, she first saw Dr. Aurich on August 16, 1995, at which time he suggested that she take medication. Leslie testified that she declined to take the medication based on the “zombie-like” appearance of the other patients in the facility. She said that Dr. Aurich told her that if she was not cooperative, he would cease being her doctor.
The Court explains that there are issues of witness credibility and fact about what happened and whether the involuntary commitment was the cause of damages. But the Court concludes:
It is preposterous to assume, as Dr. Aurich suggests, that being involuntarily committed into a mental institution on the day of your son’s funeral is a tort without damage. One does not need expert testimony to imagine what a traumatic effect being carted off by the police, being stripped naked, and undergoing a cavity search would have on a woman, not to mention the legal ramifications of having an involuntary commitment used against you in divorce and custody litigation. Clearly, burying a child is one of the worst things a person could endure, but that does not lessen the effect of being involuntarily committed the same day. On the contrary, it aggravates it. Any reasonable juror could have found that Leslie suffered damages due to the involuntary commitment.
The case before us presents classic credibility determinations and assessments of the evidence by the jury. A reasonable person, considering the evidence before the jury, could readily find that Dr. Aurich breached the standard of care and that Leslie suffered damages as a result. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting a JNOV in favor of Dr. Aurich.
We reverse the trial court’s grant of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict; reverse the trial court’s conditional grant of a motion for new trial; and render judgment reinstating the jury verdict awarding the plaintiff-appellant, Leslie Schilling, $65,000 in damages. All costs of this appeal are assessed against the defendant-appellee, Dr. Lynn W. Aurich.
JNOV REVERSED; CONDITIONAL GRANT OF MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL REVERSED; JURY VERDICT REINSTATED.
I don’t know what really happened here. Maybe her husband really thought she was going to kill herself. Maybe the doctor really had spoken to her on the phone. But the jury decided. And it seems odd that the trial judge would be willing to overturn the jury verdict. This Appellate Court won’t let that happens and honors the jury decision.
The doctor saw her within two days but not the next immediate day as per medical panel standards of care. He lost at jury trial. That’s enough for this court to defer decision to the jury. Even if credibility is questionable, the trial judge erred in nullifying the jury decision. The doctor owes damages.