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Psychiatric Patient’s Family Brings Texas Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In a recent Texas appellate case, the appellate court considered a survival and wrongful death lawsuit involving governmental immunity. The decedent had escaped from his bed at a hospital while receiving psychiatric treatment. He was not secured by wrist or ankle restraints when he left. He suffered fatal injuries when a train hit him shortly after his escape from the facility.

The decedent was brought by paramedics to the facility in 2013 after police found him unconscious. He was admitted for treatment at the main campus at around 10 p.m. and seemed to have an altered mental status that included combativeness and agitation. A notation on the hospital records stated possible drug abuse, and his history showed he had schizophrenia.

The decedent took out his catheter close to 11 p.m. and screamed at the staff. The police got him back on the stretcher, and medication was ordered. He was restrained and eventually calmed down with sedation. Wrist and ankle restraints were ordered, but they were pulled off by 1:30 a.m. He fell asleep with security by his bed. At around 3:16, he got up to go to the bathroom and returned to the stretcher. At 6:40 a.m., he was discharged but then brought back during the afternoon of the same day with severe symptoms of drug-induced psychosis.

Nursing notes from the middle of the night indicated that the decedent was medicated, sitting up in his bed and trying to leave the room. He did escape very early in the morning. The paramedics were dispatched to the train tracks a few hours later. They found him on the ground moaning after a train had hit him. They brought him back to the facility with serious injuries, and he died in the operating room shortly thereafter.

His father sued, claiming that the facility had been negligent in failing to use ordinary care while treating him, failing to adequately diagnose and treat him, failing to provide adequate supervision or physical restraints, failing to warn, failing to provide reasonably safe premises for invitees, and failing to do other things.

The facility moved for summary judgment, claiming to be immune from suit as a governmental unit, with no exception to its immunity applying under the Texas Tort Claims Act. It argued that the decedent’s death wasn’t legally caused by a condition of real or tangible personal property. The plaintiff responded that there was a misuse of personal property, due to the failure to implement the safety component of the hospital bed—its restraints. It also noted that the presence of the active railroad posed a risk of injury to mentally impaired patients, and there were no safety barriers or warnings in place. The trial court denied summary judgment, and the facility appealed.

The appellate court explained that a governmental unit includes any agency of the government. In this case, no evidence was submitted to challenge the facility’s status as a governmental unit. The facility argued that its failure to use restraints could not be considered a use of tangible property that would allow its immunity to be waived.

The court explained that the claims against the facility targeted an exercise of medical judgment to leave the patient unrestrained, and the use of tangible personal property couldn’t be invoked as the basis for a waiver of immunity. The facility argued it didn’t owe a duty to insure its patient’s safety on property it didn’t own (the railroad). The court agreed that the facility didn’t have a duty to insure his safety once he left the facility’s property. The denial of summary judgment was reversed, and a judgment was entered dismissing the lawsuit.

If you are injured on somebody else’s property, you should consult a Texas attorney with experience in premises liability cases to seek a favorable outcome. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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