Once again, the Texas Supreme Court has disregarded a jury’s verdict in a health care case and ruled against the loved ones of a psychiatric patient. The decision came in a suit entitled Rodriguez-Escobar v. Goss, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2013).
In the Goss case, Dr. Rodriguez-Escobar examined Beverly Goss to see if she should receive an involuntary hospitalization for psychiatric care. Wrongly deciding that she did not meet certain criteria, he released her. Three days later, she committed suicide.
Ms. Goss suffered from depression and had a history of suicidal behavior; in addition, her husband had left her. After she discharged a shotgun, the police took her to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. The patient initially requested a discharge, but later withdrew her request when she talked with a doctor. Also, her son, fearing for her life, obtained an emergency detention warrant.
Ms. Goss was then transferred to another hospital, where she was examined by the defendant. He discharged her, and recommended certain out-patient treatment. Ms. Goss saw various individuals over the next few days. Ultimately, she left a note on her door saying she could not live without her husband, and shot herself.
The jury which listened to the evidence found that Dr. Rodriguez-Escobar was negligent and awarded damages. On appeal, the doctor did not challenge the finding of negligence. He claimed instead that his negligence was not a cause the suicide. The expert witness for the patient’s family testified that the patient probably would not have killed herself while in the hospital, and with a proper plan, could have done better upon discharge. He also testified that, given the numerous red flags, her suicide was foreseeable. Despite this, the Court ruled that there was “no evidence” of cause-in-fact, meaning that the “hospitalization probably would have prevented her from [committing suicide] after she was released.” Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the jury, and rendered a judgment that the family take nothing by the suit.