Understanding psychiatric malpractice

On Behalf of | Jul 12, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

Most medical malpractice cases involve harm done to a patient by a doctor who was treating them for a physical ailment or injury. However, mental health professionals can also be guilty of medical malpractice.

Psychiatric care is often a less exact science than other types of medical care, and there are no guarantees. Often, patients can’t expect to be “cured.” They can only hope to learn to better deal with their issues. Sometimes, medication can be an important part of their treatment, but it must be taken under the supervision of a qualified professional.

However, in the wrong hands, a patient can indeed be harmed by a professional whose job it is to help them. When that happens, they may be able to hold that professional liable.

What must occur to warrant a malpractice suit?

Plaintiffs need to prove that the following things are true in any medical malpractice suit:

  • There was a doctor-patient relationship.
  • The doctor neglected their duty of care.
  • The patient was injured (mentally or physically).
  • The doctor’s negligence caused the injury.

All of these things apply to psychiatrists as well as other types of doctors. They, too, must have a medical degree in addition to specialized training and experience. 

Examples of psychiatric malpractice

Some of the more common types of psychiatric malpractice cases involve the following:

  • Prescribing improper or dangerous medications or treatments
  • Having a sexual relationship with a patient
  • Failing to do a suicide risk assessment
  • Creating false memories (for example, of past abuse)
  • Sharing patient information without obtaining consent

The last one can sometimes put psychiatrists in a quandary. That’s because they have a duty to warn others about the potential for harm – for example, if a patient talks seriously about wanting to kill their spouse or their boss.

What about other mental health professionals?

Many people who seek therapy who don’t have a diagnosed mental disorder go to psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) and other trained professionals who don’t have a medical degree and cannot prescribe medication. However, those therapists still owe their patients a duty of care. They can be held liable if their negligence causes harm.

If you or a loved one have been harmed due to the negligence of a mental health professional, it’s wise to find out what your legal options are for seeking justice and compensation. 


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