Judge finds hospital falsely imprisoned staff doctor

Finding it falsely imprisoned a staff research cardiologist, an Ontario court has found a major Hamilton, Ont., health-care institution and its vice president medical negligent for forcing her into a psychiatric assessment against her will after she expressed concerns about her newborn’s health.

In Dr. X v. Everson, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Reid awarded the plaintiff, identified only as Dr. X, roughly $133,000 in damages for what he says was a “false imprisonment.”

Dr. X, a research cardiologist at Hamilton Health Sciences Corp. and an assistant professor at the McMaster University Medical Centre, gave birth to her first child on Aug. 29, 2005. She became increasingly worried about the baby’s health when his irritability, constipation, and poor sleeping did not improve.

Over the next nine months, she consulted several pediatricians but did not receive a conclusive diagnosis. Unsatisfied with the results, she asked the defendant, Dr. Jennifer Everson, vice president medical and chairwoman of the medical advisory committee, for a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist in private practice because she believed the doctors within HHSC had labelled her as an anxious mother.

Prior to their scheduled appointment on June 2, 2006, Everson gathered information about the plaintiff from her previous appointments with doctors at HHSC without informing her.

At the appointment, Everson informed Dr. X she had completed an application for a psychiatric assessment. The plaintiff was then taken to an emergency psychiatric unit at a neighbouring hospital. As a result, Dr. X claims she suffered psychological trauma and sued for damages.

Reid awarded the plaintiff $50,000 for general damages and $83,473 for economic loss, finding “the effects of the Form 1 application on Dr. X were serious and prolonged. They were not minor or transient and certainly did rise above the ordinary annoyances, fears and anxieties that one would expect to endure.”

He also found that Everson breached the standard of care required for completing such an application (known as a Form 1) because she did not conduct a personal examination of the plaintiff and is not permitted to proceed based on third-party evidence.

“There needs to be direct contact between the doctor and the patient in order for the doctor to come to a proper conclusion or, using the words of Form 1, to make a careful inquiry into all the facts necessary to form an opinion about the nature and quality of the person’s mental disorder,” wrote Reid.

“The improper completion of the Form 1 meant that the subsequent detention of the plaintiff was not authorized by law, and it constituted a false imprisonment.”

The judge called the conversation between Everson and the plaintiff “a monologue” where the plaintiff describes the concerns she has about her child.

“I reject the evidence of the defendant that the purpose of the meeting was to speak with the plaintiff and figure out what was going on with her, since making a serious and good faith effort to do so would have required a more expansive conversation,” he wrote.

Reid concluded the defendant failed to prove the plaintiff’s detention was justified.

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