Georgia Court of Appeals Holds Hospital Can be Liable for Attempted Suicide

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment to a hospital after a patient was severely injured attempting suicide after discharge. Plaintiff suffered from paranoia and bipolar disorder. He suffered an acute decompensation and was transported from his apartment to the emergency department at Grady Memorial Hospital. There, a physician signed an involuntary commitment order (“1013”) and transfer to the psychiatric floor for “suicidal, bipolar/anxiety.” Plaintiff was then treated with Ativan.

Around the time of transfer to the psychiatric floor, a social worker “intercepted” and reassessed Plaintiff. The social worker determined Plaintiff was stable and should be discharged. After shift change, a second physician rescinded the 1013 order, reassessed Plaintiff, determined there were no current suicidal ideations or threats, and found that Plaintiff was safe for discharge. Approximately 11 hours later, Plaintiff attempted suicide by jumping from three stories, suffering severe injuries and brain damage.

The hospital moved for summary judgment under O.C.G.A. §§37-3-4 and 37-3-43(c), claiming it was entitled to “immunity” based on good faith compliance with the admission and discharge statutes concerning involuntary commitment. First, the Court of Appeals held there were genuine issues of material fact whether Grady had shown it was entitled to “immunity” because there were discrepancies between the first doctor’s assessment of suicide risk, the social worker’s intervention, and the second doctor’s concurrence with the social worker’s assessment after the patient received Ativan.

Next, the Court of Appeals held there were factual questions with whether Grady complied with the notice provisions of the statute. Under the notice rules, the hospital is required to give notice to the patient or their representative of proposed discharge. There was nothing in the chart to indicate compliance.

Take-home: proving immunity from liability can be difficult, especially on summary judgment.

The case is Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority v. Hickson, 830 S.E.2d 582 (June 28, 2019).