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A New York mental health practice that evaluated and treated an injured worker in relation to a workers compensation claim cannot be held liable for that worker's suicide, a New York appellate court has ruled.
Marcus X. Muth was injured in September 2002 while working as a sanitation worker, court records show. He developed severe lower back pain, became increasingly depressed due to his injury and his inability to work and overdosed on Vicodin in October 2002 but survived the incident.
In November 2005, Mr. Muth began receiving treatment from a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with major depression with psychosis, court filings show. Mr. Muth was prescribed psychiatric medications, but continued to complain of pain, depression, paranoia and other symptoms.
By September 2007, the psychiatrist noted that Mr. Muth was thinking of dying all the time, records show. He last treated Mr. Muth in November 2007, when Mr. Muth became angry that the psychiatrist would not write a letter to the New York State Workers' Compensation Board stating that his depression was causally connected to his work accident.
Mr. Muth began receiving treatment in January 2008 from Dr. Nicholas Radcliffe, a psychologist with the medical practice Howard M. Rombom, Ph.D., P.C. in Great Neck, New York. Dr. Radcliffe wrote a report that month concluding that Mr. Muth's depression was linked to his work accident and injuries, and he saw Mr. Muth for two more appointments.
Mr. Muth failed to show for an appointment with Dr. Radcliffe in February 2008, and he fatally shot himself later that month, according to court filings.
Mr. Muth's wife, Lorraine, sued the Rombom medical practice. In court filings, Ms. Muth argued that Dr. Radcliffe's evaluation was deficient because he didn't ask about Mr. Muth's access to firearms, past suicide attempts, past or current substance abuse, mental health history or prior hospitalizations. She also argued that Dr. Radcliffe failed to create a treatment plan to address his depression, anxiety and psychosis, or that would reduce his suicide risk factors.
But a three-judge panel of the New York Supreme Court's appellate division in New York ruled on Oct. 6 that the Rombom practice was not liable for Mr. Muth's death. The court found that Dr. Radcliffe acted appropriately in evaluating Mr. Muth in relation to his workers comp claim.
“Although a psychologist-patient relationship existed between decedent and Dr. Radcliffe, Ronbom P.C. is not liable to plaintiff, since Dr. Radcliffe exercised his professional medical judgment in his examination and evaluation of decedent, including his determination whether to inquire about decedent's access to firearms,” the ruling reads. “Furthermore, the choices Dr. Radcliffe made were not a proximate cause of decedent's suicide, an event which occurred three weeks after he last visited with Radcliffe.”
Few workers compensation prescriptions are filled via mail order despite lower prices for payers and increased compliance by injured workers, experts say.