The Illinois Supreme Court has sided with health care providers who treated a mentally ill man who subsequently murdered his wife.
In Brenda Tedrick, Adm’r Of The Estate Of Teresa Street, Deceased, et al., V. Community Resource Center Inc., et al., the high court reversed in part an appeals court decision finding that the marital status of the couple was sufficient to transfer alleged negligence on the part of the health care providers to the wife of the mentally ill man.
“The complaint contains 20 counts sounding in wrongful death or survival against 10 healthcare providers, including physicians, psychologists, social workers and their employers. The defendants are alleged to have negligently provided Richard with medical care over a period of time from May 13, 2003, until June 6, 2003,” wrote Justice Karmeier, delivering the judgment of the court.
The plaintiffs contended that because the health care providers did not warn Teresa Street of threats made against her by Richard Street while under their care, they failed to protect her against potential violent acts.
The defendants, however, “argued that a nonpatient third party plaintiff can bring a medical negligence lawsuit only if the plaintiff has a special relationship with the patient,” Karemeier wrote.
Teresa Street was not being treated by any of the defendants, but the complaint countered that because the Streets were married, they had a “special relationship” under the law, and that the defendants’ alleged negligence should be transferred to Teresa Street.
According to the complaint, while Richard Street was under the care of the various defendants, he “had paranoid delusions that his wife was committing adultery and that she was trying to poison him; that he had thoughts of killing his wife and that he threatened to kill her.”
It also alleges that because the health care providers failed to warn Teresa Street or the police about about Richard Street’s “physical, psychological and emotional condition” and failed to hospitalize or otherwise control him, they endangered Teresa and others to whom Richard Street posed a threat.
While the circuit court concluded that the plaintiffs’ argument regarding the alleged special relationship was not sufficient to transfer any negligence to Teresa Street, the appeals court found that “the relationship, as alleged, between Teresa and Richard reaches the level of personal, familial intimacy. … The injury inflicted on Teresa was physical and traceable to the allegedly negligent treatment of Richard’s mental health conditions.”
The Supreme Court concluded otherwise, however, reversing that part of the appeals court finding that the factual allegations were sufficient “to establish a cause of action based on theories of voluntary undertaking and transferred negligence.”
Source: Illinois Supreme Court, www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2009/September/104861.pdf
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