Court of Appeals - Kowalski v. St. Francis Hosp. & Health Ctrs.:
In this medical malpractice and negligence case, previously discussed here on the MLN blog, the plaintiff claimed the hospital and emergency room doctor should have stopped him from leaving the hospital after he voluntarily admitted himself while highly intoxicated. The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division explaining, “there are surely few principles more basic than that the members of a free society may, with limited exception, come and go as they please.” While common law exists allowing “the restraint of people whose mental state might make them a danger to themselves or others in extreme circumstances,” these facts did not allow the hospital to detain the plaintiff without being exposed to liability for false imprisonment. The majority also discussed Mental Hygiene Laws Sec. 22.09 which provides an avenue to detain highly intoxicated individuals if they are brought to the hospital against their will and in danger of self injury. No equivalent exception, however, exists for intoxicated individuals who voluntarily admit themselves, as plaintiff did in this case.
In dissent Judge Pigott argued that the Mental Hygiene Law did not apply, but rather the common law imposed a duty on the defendant to follow its own protocols and procedures. According to the plaintiff's experts, the hospitals policies required one-to-one surveillance for an individual who arrived in the emergency room in a potentially unstable condition. Judge Pigott maintained that the alleged violation of these hospital protocols raised triable issues of fact.