Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5278 states that individuals authorized to detain for 72-hour holds shall not be held either criminally or civilly liable for exercising this authority in accordance with the law. However, Jacobs v. Grossmont Hospital (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 69, 71 dissects the extent of this protection. The court in Jacobs further concluded that Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5278 does not confer immunity for negligent or other wrongful conduct that may occur in the evaluation or treatment of involuntarily detained patients. The Jacobs court states in its opinion that Welf. & Inst. Code § 5278 means precisely what it says it means and precludes med malpractice liability for [standard allegations of] battery, false imprisonment, detention and treatment without consent, or for general medical malpractice insofar that the detention under Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5150 was executed in accordance with the law.
This moves us into the next issue which determines the standard of review for such liability In Gonzalez v. Paradise Valley Hospital (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 735, 736, the court clarified that the scope of immunity afforded under Welf. & Inst. Code § 5278 is a legal question best answered by “rules of statutory construction”. Julian v. Mission Community Hospital (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 360, 376 further clarified that the conduct protected under § 5278 is confined to the exercise of statutory authority to detain, evaluate, and treat against the patient's wishes, and does not extend to the manner in which the 5150 evaluation and treatment are carried out. In other words, this court opined that liability arising from negligence in 5150 evaluation or treatment is not the same liability covered under the umbrella of § 5278 “exercise of this authority in accordance with the law”.
We now move into the issue of statutory interpretation. The fundamental rule of statutory construction is that a court should ascertain the intent of the California legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. In re Marilyn H. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 295, 298. Moreover, every statute should be construed with reference to the whole system of law of which it is a part so that all may be harmonized and have effect. A court must use the construction that comports most closely with the intent of LPS legislature, with a view to promoting rather than defeating the general purpose of the law, and strive to avoid an interpretation that would lead to absurd consequences. Thus the intent of the LPS act is to promote treatment of the patient and protection of the public. This shall further apply to Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5278 and by allowing § 5278 to provide immunity over negligent 5150 evaluations that fall below the standards expected of reasonably competent medical professionals in the field of psychiatry contravenes the intent of the LPS act. Although the Jacobs court does not address the issue of statutory interpretation, it does opine that “however, the court does not interpret case law to insulate from liability negligent medical treatment that falls below the standard of professional care” it does speak to the clinician providing the assessment and evaluation needs to act that does not fall below the standard of professional care. This case although not controlling may be persuasive in showing that the intent of the LPS act is to promote treatment rather than insulate hospitals and physicians from overly cautious reticence toward treatment.
In making a case, counsel would have to argue that they are not opining that the hospital is liable for the patient’s behaviour that occurred before and during the 5150 but rather that the physician misapplied the 5150 criteria and thusly fell below the standard of professional care and thusly is not insulated from liability otherwise covered under § 5278. The law excuses the physician from civil suits regarding false imprisonment not negligent treatment.
For example counsel could directly reference Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5150.05, subd. (a) and Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5150, subd. (b): “in determining whether there is probable cause, a person authorized to make that determination may consider “available relevant information about the historical course of the person's mental disorder” and “they shall not be limited to consideration of the danger of imminent harm”. They could cite to the code and create the nexus to the fact that the physician failed to consider these factors despite plenty of evidence. One standard used by appellate courts when arguing a case, counsel needs to show that a different outcome would have been achieved had this error not been made (standards on appeal) to win a reversal. In some form counsel could show that patient would have been 5150ed and benefitted from it had physician considered the excluded evidence. [more updates soon]
In proving that a doctor fell below the standard of professional care may be hard to prove as the courts could be deferential to the treating doctor. However, if counsel can obtain the hospital documents via the Business Records exception [cite], they can show through via nursing notes, MD written statements, and relative documents submitted to the patient file that the assessing physician was aware of the patient “meeting” criteria for ongoing grave disability, harm to oneself through neglect or inability to care for oneself, lack of third party assistance, and lack of insight into her mental illness, and they did not act within the current standard of psychiatric care given their access to the psychiatric notes and statements.
Juvenile Dependency and