Is this Murder the Result of Medical Malpractice?

In 2014, a now-patient at Tennessee Mental Health institute stabbed his father in the chest three times because he was convinced his father was a robot trying to assassinate him. While the patient was declared not-guilty due to insanity, it is possible his doctor will be found guilty. Unlike his former patient, Dr. Michael Murphy, who is the national director for HCA Behavioral Health Services, is not being charged for murder. Rather, he is battling a claim filed for medical malpractice.

Why Did the Patient Blame His Doctor for His Crime?

Murphy left his position at Centennial Psychiatric Associates for a promotion into his current position. During this time, he left his patients to the care of his former partner and nurse practitioner. The claim states Murphy did not transition the patient properly into the care of his partner and resident nurse practitioner in addition to inappropriately accessing that patient’s medical records, though Murphy was no longer the doctor on file.

The case mainly centers around the following facts. The patient was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia and was on a steady regimen of medication. During a nervous breakdown that March, the nurse practitioner switched his medication from Geodon to Seroquel, without tapering the medications. This means the nurse failed to gradually reduce the dose of Geodon while simultaneously increasing the dose of Seroquel. The nurse failed to follow the protocols of consulting and developing a treatment plan with the doctor (in this case, Murphy’s former partner). Moreover, Murphy did not leave a transition memo, which also violated transition protocols. As a result, the patient became more anxious and experienced bouts of paranoia during this sudden medication swap. That April following the medication swap, the patient murdered his father in a fit of paranoid delusions.

Psychiatric Doctors Should, to Some Degree, Be Held Responsible for Patient Care

While it may be a stretch to say Murphy is directly responsible for the death of his former patient’s father, there is some level of responsibility that comes with treating a mentally unstable person. In some ways, it might be less straightforward than treating patients with physical injuries. However, this doctor had an obligation to his patient to ensure the transition between practitioners did not endanger the public or the patient’s well-being.

The claims assert that the doctor’s lack of compliance with protocols was “reckless and negligent.” As the case is ongoing, a jury will decide whether that is true. The verdict may set a precedent that determines whether psychiatric doctors may be held liable for their patient’s actions in the future.

Stanley Davis is a Nashville injury attorney who helps victims of medical malpractice and other accidents.  

“Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love. Amen.” Ephesians 6:24