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Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filed Over ER Patient’s Suicide

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit An emergency room doctor accused of exhibiting a lack of care that resulted in his patient’s suicide has been cleared of wrongdoing by a jury in Colorado, who believed his argument that the patient never informed him that he was suicidal.

It took the jury of five women and one man three hours on June 6 to return the decision that Dr. Mark Turpen was not negligent in the death of Ted Villelli, and that he did not owe damages to the plaintiff, Renee Villelli.  Ted Villelli died by his own hand on June 10, 2010 six hours after the emergency room visit to Southwest Memorial Hospital where he was seen by Dr. Turpen.

Defense argues that patient denied being suicidal

The plaintiff’s attorney had argued that Turpen had been negligent in his duties as a doctor because he discharged her husband after only a 10-minute mental health evaluation.  He argued that if the doctor had done his job correctly, Villelli would still be alive “at least that day.” Villelli’s attorney requested at least $500,000 in the medical malpractice lawsuit as recompense for the economic and emotional damages that she had suffered due to her husband’s death.

However, the Turpen’s attorney based his closing statement on the argument that the doctor was not given enough information to see suicide as a risk for his patient.  During his ER visit, Vellelli reportedly “adamantly denied” being suicidal to Turpen, as well as to an ER nurse and two deputies at the hospital.

Jury cautioned not to rely on hindsight

The attorney for the defense cautioned the jury to “look at this case as it unfolded, not in hindsight,” arguing that it would be unfair to evaluate the case on the basis of the 16 exhibits of evidence and the testimony of witnesses who had been introduced as part of the trial –none of which the doctor would have been privy to during the psychiatric evaluation of the patient.

A crucial issue in such cases is often the jury’s problematic tendency to impute more knowledge to a doctor than he or she could reasonably have had at the time or to use “magical thinking” to link aspects of the patient’s death to some aspect of treatment that they feel should have tipped the doctor off to the patient’s suicidal intentions.  For instance, juries sometimes assume that doctors should have known that their patients would use prescription drugs they had prescribed to end their life when no actual evidence was available to the doctors at the time.

Medical errors or a poor surgical outcome does not always warrant the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit.  A doctor or health care professional must be shown to have been negligent in that the level of care he or she offered fell below medically acceptable standards.