The Mental Health Procedures Act (MPHA) establishes the procedures for the treatment of mentally ill patients in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Of course, medical malpractice can and does occur to mentally ill patients in Pennsylvania who are subject to the MPHA under a 301 or 302 commitment.  The typical Plaintiff in a medical malpractice will have committed suicide while being treated at a facility pursuant to the MHPA   

Unfortunately for mentally ill patients who are subject to the MHPA, the standard for pursing a medical malpractice claim is higher than a “regular” medical malpractice claim.  The MHPA grants limited immunity to healthcare providers.  Specifically, the MHPA provides, in pertinent part:

In the absence of willful misconduct or gross negligence, a county administrator, a director of a facility, a physician, a peace officer or any other authorized person who participates in a decision that a person be examined or treated under this act, or that a person be discharged or placed under partial hospitalization, outpatient care or leave of absence, or that the restraint upon such person be otherwise reduced, or a county administrator or other authorized person who denies an application for voluntary treatment or for involuntary emergency examination and treatment, shall not be civilly or criminally liable for such decision or for any of its consequences.

50 P.S. § 7114(a).  The granting of limited immunity to healthcare providers who provide services to mentally ill patients represents the legislature’s policy decision to ameliorate certain risks associated with providing these services in an “unscientific and inexact field” in order to facilitate the rendering of care to mentally ill patients in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Allen v. Montgomery Hosp., 696 A.2d 1175, 1178-79 (Pa. 1997).     

In order to overcome the limited immunity provision of § 7114(a), a plaintiff must demonstrate gross negligence on the part of the healthcare provider.  In Bloom v. Dubois Regional Med. Ctr., 597 A.2d 671 (Pa. Super. 1991), the Superior Court explained and defined the term of “gross negligence” as it applies to the MHPA as follows:

It appears that the legislature intended to require that liability be premised on facts indicating more egregiously deviant conduct than ordinary carelessness, inadvertence, laxity or indifference.  We hold that the legislature intended the term gross negligence where the facts support substantially more than ordinary carelessness, inadvertence, laxity and indifference.  The behavior must be flagrant, grossly deviating from the ordinary standard of care.

Id. at 679 (emphasis added).  See also Albright v. Abington Memorial Hosp., 696 A.2d 1159, 1164 (Pa. 1997) (adopting and affirming the Bloom definition for gross negligence) (emphasis added).  

Additionally, the limited immunity provided by § 7114(a) extends to injuries suffered by third parties at the hands of mental health patients.  See Goryeb v. Com., 575 A.2d 545, 549 (Pa. Super. 1990).  For example, if you were injured by another patient in a hospital setting as a result of a hospital’s negligence in failing to supervise that patient and that patient was there subject to the MHPA, you would need to prove gross negligence against the hospital in order to recover for that injury.