The Georgia Supreme Court has affirmed summary judgment for a psychiatrist on a wrongful death claim filed by the widow of a man killed in a car accident by the psychiatrist’s patient. The patient was under the care of the psychiatrist for alcoholism and had been prescribed Lorazepam. The patient returned to Atlanta from a trip and scheduled an emergency visit with the psychiatrist. The patient instead went to a bar before going to the appointment. After the appointment, he returned to the bar and drank more. Later that evening, after drinking more, the patient struck Plaintiff’s husband and killed him.
Plaintiff sued the psychiatrist in “ordinary negligence” and professional malpractice. The trial court granted the psychiatrist summary judgment and Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that there was no claim for “ordinary” negligence, either under the “Bradley Center” rule or because of violation of various statutes regarding involuntary commitment. In a word, the Court reaffirmed the rule that a third party cannot sue a professional for the acts of the professional’s patient because the duty to control the patient does not arise unless the professional exercises “legal authority” to “place restraints on the liberty” of the patient. Here, the patient was a voluntary outpatient, so the control element was missing. The Court also affirmed summary judgment on the professional malpractice claim because of lack of privity between Plaintiff and the provider.
Take-home: this case seems to strengthen the general rule regarding professional liability to third-parties after a slight weakening of the rule in cases like Peterson v. Reeves.
The case is Stanley v. Garrett, ___ S.E.2d ___, 2020 WL 5554398 (Ga.Ct.App. Sept. 17, 2020).