What Is Psychiatric Malpractice?

When we seek treatment from a doctor, we place a great deal of trust in them and expect them to provide treatment that meets the current standard of care. In fact, medical providers have a legal duty to treat patients as a reasonable professional would under the same circumstances. They must meet the level of care that’s the accepted standard of the medical community for the patient’s condition. But does this legal duty also apply to mental health care? The answer is yes, a psychiatrist or other mental health professional has a legal duty to treat their patients at the standard of care accepted by their peers in the profession. Failing to do so is malpractice. Just ask our Austin medical malpractice attorneys. 

Examples of Psychiatric Malpractice

Just as patients place their physical health in the hands of a medical doctor when they are ill or injured, patients in emotional distress or those suffering from mental illness trust their emotional well-being to the psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors who treat them. Unfortunately, some mental health professionals fail to uphold the industry-accepted standards of care. For example:

  • Abuse of power cases: An individual suffering from a mental or emotional illness places a great deal of trust in their psychiatric provider, including opening up to them with personal information. If the provider breaks confidentiality, it can greatly impact the victim’s life. Overuse or unnecessary use of restraints and/or medications are abuses of a provider’s power. Abuse of power may also include physical abuse or sexual abuse, including having a sexual relationship with a vulnerable patient. 
  • Medication errors: If a mental healthcare provider prescribes the wrong medication, wrong dosage, or a medication that’s contraindicated for the patient due to another medication or known drug allergy, it’s malpractice.
  • Misdiagnosed mental health condition: If a psychiatrist or other mental health professional misdiagnoses a patient, the patient may receive improper treatment and medication for a condition they do not have while their true condition remains unaddressed, resulting in significant harm.

Just as in medical malpractice, psychiatric malpractice victims suffer significant damages. A successful psychiatric malpractice lawsuit can recover compensation for their damages.

What Damages Are Available in a Psychiatric Malpractice Case?

When an individual fails to receive proper treatment for an emotional or mental health condition, the condition may worsen, causing economic and non-economic consequences or “damages” to the victim, including the following:

  • Additional mental healthcare expenses
  • Lost income
  • Emotional anguish
  • Wrongful death

These economic and non-economic damages to the victim of this type of malpractice can cause emotional distress and financial hardship.

Proving Liability in a Psychiatric Malpractice Case

A successful claim for compensation for damages in a psychiatric malpractice case requires gathering evidence to support the following legal points of liability:

  • A provider/patient relationship was in place at the time the malpractice occurred
  • The provider owed a duty of care toward the patient to treat them at the industry-accepted standard of care, or the way a reasonable professional would treat them
  • The provider breached their duty through an act of negligence or wrongdoing
  • The breach of duty directly caused injury to the patient
  • The patient experienced economic and non-economic damages from the negligent or wrongful action

It can be challenging to prove that a psychiatric provider breached their duty of care and to ensure that there’s ample evidence to file a claim against the provider’s malpractice insurance. Sometimes, a case may require a lawsuit against the defendant in court. An Austin injury attorney with experience in psychiatric malpractice cases is an important ally in these complex cases.