Did the hospital owe a duty of care to the friend of a mentally ill patient? Which case won?
Mentally ill man admitted involuntarily to hospital
A Victorian man had a long history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia and was being treated for his illness at Echuca in Victoria.
In July 2004, while in NSW with a friend, the man was involuntarily admitted to and detained in a regional hospital.
Both the psychiatrist and the medical superintendent who saw the man at the hospital recorded their opinion that the man was a “mentally ill person”.
Patient discharged from hospital, leading to tragic outcome
The psychiatrist read the man’s medical records from the Echuca Community Mental Health Service, as well as speaking with the man, his mother and his friend. It was agreed that the man would spend the night at the hospital and that his friend would drive him to his mother’s house the following day for treatment with his usual treatment providers.
The next day the man was discharged from the hospital and travelled with his friend to Echuca. Sadly, in the course of that journey the man killed his friend. Before taking his own life, the man told police that he had acted on impulse, believing that his friend had killed him in a past life.
The family of the friend brought a case against the hospital and the psychiatrist on the basis that, amongst other things, a duty of care was owed to the friend and that the duty was breached by discharging the man into his custody for the drive back to Echuca.