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Mental health misdiagnosis blamed for patient's violent death

Evidence used to prove physician malpractice can be extensive. An injured patient's medical records, depositions from health care providers and testimony from experts are employed to build a Massachusetts negligence case.

Failure to diagnose a physical illness is easier to show than proof of a missed diagnosis for a mental health condition. Bodily injuries can be made visible to a jury, but depression and related psychiatric disorders are intangible.

A jury in an adjacent state ruled that a patient, who sought help from doctors for a series of severe mental health symptoms, did not get the treatment he deserved. Two months after reporting depression symptoms, the 45-year-old patient shot and killed his wife and then committed suicide.

Damages of over $8 million were awarded to the couple's children, both minors at the time of their parents' deaths, in a claim filed by the paternal grandmother. The jury agreed that a doctor and other staff members in his practice failed to detect and treat the patient's illness, despite a laundry list of symptoms that indicated severe mental problems.

The man sought help from the defendant in April 2009. The patient reported sleeplessness, problems with concentration, marital discord, a loss of weight and persistent negative feelings. Fear and anxiety were among his complaints.

The plaintiff's attorneys argued that the physician's failure to acknowledge the severity of the symptoms and provide quality care led to the deaths of the patient and his wife. The jury believed a tragedy could have been averted had the man been diagnosed properly and referred for psychiatric treatment.

A plaintiff's lawyer in a malpractice case has the difficult task of translating elaborate medical information into a form that can be understood clearly by lay people. Jury members do not have the knowledge or expertise that physicians do. Testimony from medical experts helps juries determine whether a defendant supplied or neglected a sufficient standard of health care.

Source: Vernon Patch, "Family Awarded $8 Million in Case Against Koplin, Practice After 2009 Murder-Suicide" Chris Dehnel, Jan. 09, 2014

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