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Mental Health Procedures Act, Immunity, and Gross Negligence

Dean v. Bowling Green Brandywine, 2018 Pa. Super. LEXIS 762 (July 2, 2018) Panella, J.  The Act applies to voluntary inpatient treatment of mentally ill persons.  The Act does not define the term “mentally ill person.”  Andrew Johnson was 23 when he voluntarily applied for admission to Bowling Green Brandywine Treatment Center.  He was suffering from an addiction to opiates and benzodiazepines.  He died at the hospital.  The question was whether the various people sued received the immunity provided by the gross negligence standard?  Dr. Rana provided psychiatric evaluation.  Because Dr. Rana was engaged in the diagnosis, evaluation, therapy or rehabilitation of mental illness in Johnson, the trial court did not err in concluding that Dr. Rana was covered by the limited immunity provided by the MHPA.  As to Dr. Duncklee and Dr. Plumb, emergency room physicians who treated Johnson after he had been transferred by ambulance, the record is far from clear as to whether they had diagnosed and treated Johnson for mental illness.  The trial court erred in applying limited immunity under the MHPA to Johnson’s claims against Dr. Duncklee.  Dr. Plumb also indicated Johnson’s medical history included bipolar disorder.  Dr. Plumb thought the problem was substance abuse.  Dr. Plumb did not propose a diagnosis of mental illness.  Dr. Plumb did not offer any treatment for mental illness.  Dr. Plumb was not engaged in treating Johnson for or medically treating him in conjunction with treatment for mental illness.  The trial court erred in holding to the contrary.  The court erred in dismissing the claims against Drs. Duncklee and Plumb.  That means a vicarious liability claim against Chester County Emergency Room Associates must also be reinstated.  Dr. Khan and Brandywine treated Johnson both before and after Dr. Rana’s psychiatric consult.  Dr. Khan and Brandywine’s actions after the psychiatric consult are covered by the limited immunity provisions of the MHPA.  We conclude limited immunity properly applies to claims against Dr. Rana, Dr. Khan and Brandywine.  In contrast, limited immunity does not apply against Dr. Duncklee and Dr. Plumb and Southern Chester County Emergency Associates.  Brandywine is entitled to the defense of limited immunity.  The trial court properly granted nonsuit to Dr. Rana, Dr. Khan and Brandywine.  We will reverse the grant of nonsuit as to Dr. Duncklee, Dr. Plumb and the Southern Chester County Emergency Associates, PC.