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Can a Psychiatrist be Held Negligent for Failing to Act When Advised of a Patient's Threats to His Family?

On March 24, 2015, the Court entered a Memorandum and Order In Rarrick v. Dr. Richard Silbert and Behavioral Healthcare Center, P.C., Court of Common Pleas, Lackawanna County, No. 2002-CV-4951, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant Silbert was negligent in that he knew or should have known of a clear and present danger his patient, Gerald Rarrick, Jr. presented to Plaintiffs and that Silbert failed to take any action to diffuse the situation.

Although the Court held that a mental health professional does not have a duty to warn a third party of potential harm, unless a specific and immediate threat of serious bodily injury has been conveyed by the patient to the doctor regarding a specific victim, the doctor can be held liable for willful misconduct or gross negligence under the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act. In this case, the Plaintiff contacted Dr. Silbert, Gerald Rarrick's psychiatrist, on multiple occasions to voice her concerns about her husband's erratic behavior. Not only did Plaintiff telephone Dr. Silbert, but Gerald Rarrick's father, also called Dr. Silbert separately concerning his son's behavior. The Plaintiff also called Dr. Silbert to voice her concerns regarding the impact of the family moving out of the Rarrick residence. Additionally, Dr. Silbert was aware of Gerald Rarrick's fragile psychological state coupled with his possession of guns and various hunting rifles. Dr. Silbert took no action. On September 19, 2000, Gerald Rarrick entered the kitchen brandishing a shotgun. He then fired a shot into the wall. He then held his wife and father as hostages. After negotiations with the police, the ordeal ended with Rarrick leaving the home in police custody. Due to these facts, the Court concluded, on March 24, 2015, that there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to a jury.

If you have been accused of gross negligence, or sued in a malpractice case, the Medical Board will open an investigation. It is important that you hire an attorney experienced in dealing with the Medical Board in order to protect your rights. Please call me and I will gladly review your options.

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