SSRI Ed note: Woman under stress seeks psychiatric help, is hospitalized for "psychotic depression", prescribed Haldol, Zoloft. Discharged, she stabs son and kills herself.

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305 A.D.2d 38 (2003)

758 N.Y.S.2d 717

FRANK PINGTELLA, JR., as Administrator of the Estate of VIRGINIA R. PINGTELLA, Also Known as GINGER R. PINGTELLA, Deceased, Plaintiff, and FRANK PINGTELLA, JR., Individually and as Parent and Natural Guardian of FRANK V. PINGTELLA, an Infant, Respondent, v. LEELAND JONES, M.D., Appellant.

Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Fourth Department.

May 2, 2003.


In this medical malpractice matter, we are asked to determine whether defendant psychiatrist owed a duty of care to the child of his patient. Defendant appeals from an order that, inter alia, denied those parts of his motion seeking dismissal of the cause of action for physical and psychiatric injuries on behalf of the child and the derivative cause of action for plaintiff’s care of the child. On appeal, defendant contends that he owed no duty of care to the child, while plaintiff contends that, under the facts of this case, defendant owed a duty to the child to render proper and appropriate medical care to his mother. We agree with defendant.

On May 15, 1997, plaintiff’s decedent, who at that time was no longer married to plaintiff, sought psychiatric treatment from defendant. The next day, decedent was admitted to Buffalo General Hospital with complaints of high stress and dissociation. She was diagnosed with “major depression with psychotic features” and was admitted for “stabilization.” She was discharged on May 20, 1997. Defendant’s discharge notes state:

She seemed to improve on this medication with no apparent side effects. She is unsure what she was going to do with her financial situation. She is the mother of an adolescent son, but is a single parent who just lost her job and has variable support. The patient will need good out patient follow up.The patient will be followed up in the office. Day treatment program is recommended. The patient has declined this so far. Discharge medications: Zoloft 50 mg p.o. q.a.m. and Haldol 1 mg h.s. CONDITION ON DISCHARGE: She is ambulatory, nonsuicidal. Some episodes of dissociation. Markedly improved mood and psychotic/dissociative features.Decedent continued to see defendant for treatment on an outpatient basis. On June 17, 1997, she told defendant that she was improving because she and plaintiff were trying to reconcile. Soon after that visit, however, plaintiff informed decedent that he did not want to reconcile. On June 24, 1997, decedent stabbed her son, who was then nine years old, because she believed he was the devil. The child sustained stab wounds to his hands and legs and developed psychiatric problems.

In November 1997, decedent commenced a medical malpractice action against defendant. On April 2, 1999, she committed suicide. That action, with plaintiff as administrator of decedent’s estate, was consolidated with a medical malpractice action against defendant commenced by plaintiff individually and as parent and natural guardian of his child. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint on behalf of plaintiff individually and as parent and natural guardian of the child for failure to state a cause of action, and plaintiff cross-moved to serve, nunc pro tunc, a supplemental bill of particulars. Supreme Court granted the motion in part and dismissed plaintiff’s individual claims, but denied the motion to the extent that it sought dismissal of the causes of action on behalf of the child and by plaintiff derivatively, for his care of the child. The court also granted the cross motion. This appeal ensued.