Court: Mental health workers immune from suit in suicide case

The family of a Stillwater teenager who took his own life after being denied voluntary admission to the psychiatric unit at a Twin Cities hospital will not be able to proceed with a negligence suit against the hospital the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today.

The court agreed with attorneys for Allina Health, who claim the health care workers at United Hospital who evaluated Kirk Lloyd are granted immunity under Minnesota’s Commitment and Treatment Act, reversing a district court ruling.

Lloyd, 17, killed himself in May 2010, two days after he was sent home from United’s emergency room, where he had waited most of the day for help. The United staff discussed outpatient options with Lloyd, set up an appointment with his school therapist for the following day, and had Lloyd sign a discharge recommendation which included a statement indicating that Lloyd was not a danger to himself or anyone else.

Three days earlier, Lloyd had wrapped himself in a blanket and set it ablaze.

The court derailed the Lloyd family’s lawsuit today because it’s barred under Minnesota law, which states:

All persons acting in good faith, upon either actual knowledge or information thought by them to be reliable, who act pursuant to any provision of this chapter or who procedurally or physically assist in the commitment of any individual, pursuant to this chapter, are not subject to any civil or criminal liability under this chapter.

“Because the CTA contains a section detailing the procedure to follow when determining whether to grant a request for voluntary admission … (Allina employees) were acting “pursuant to any provision” when they decided to refuse Lloyd’s request for admittance to inpatient treatment. As such, the CTA immunity provision is applicable to their voluntary-admission decision,” Judge Peter Reyes wrote in today’s ruling (pdf).

Last October, by the way, Lloyd’s younger brother, then 16, also took his own life.

  • Anna

    It would be interesting to find out what the census (the number of occupied beds) on the psychiatric unit was the day Kirk Lloyd came to them for help.

    If a bed was available and they refused to admit him, they might very well be held liable, regardless of what the statute states. A voluntary admission lasts 72 hours and a psychiatric evaluation would have been conducted, possibly saving the young man’s life.

    To lose not one but two children to suicide is something no parent should have to go through.

    The saddest part in all of this is the truth may never be known. Healthcare administrators are masters of the blame game. They must be held accountable and the law must be overturned.

    • Jack

      The number of occupied beds verses building a much-needed football stadium (with bird glass, right? because we are thoughtful humane beings), baseball stadium, military spending…we certainly have our priorities straight don’t we?
      This mother is incredibly strong.

      • Anna

        Our priorities regarding the mentally ill have been skewed since the late 70’s and the digital age is skewing them even more.

        Kirk Lloyd cried for help and he got none. The same thing is happening in child protective services and domestic violence.

        It’s the perennial “I am not my brother’s keeper.”

        The hardest right of passage for teens is being held accountable for their actions and taking the consequences of poor decisions.

        Kirk Lloyd was not an adult under the legal standard but he made a good decision to go the hospital. United made an awful decision and did what was convenient and failed to err on the side of caution.