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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 6th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 40 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 40

Attorney adds context to detainment lawsuit against Marian Medical, county


The attorney for a San Luis Obispo couple who attempted to sue Marian Regional Medical Center for wrongful detainment added clarity to the complex case while responding to an article published in the Sun on Nov. 30 ("Wrongfully detained?").

"To be detained involuntarily is among the most traumatizing thing that can occur to a person. To be detained involuntarily by someone who has ignored procedural safeguards is unacceptable," Jude Egan wrote in an email on Dec. 3. "The law does not give us adequate means of addressing this issue in its current state. That is a real problem."

Egan represented Cynthia and Gary Hayes, who claimed Marian, Vista del Mar Hospital, and Santa Barbara County exposed Cynthia to excessive mental trauma by forcibly committing her to psychiatric treatment at Vista del Mar in Ventura on April 16, 2015.

On Aug. 23 of this year, Judge Staffel of Santa Barbara County Superior Court sided with the hospital's counsel, who argued that Cynthia had attempted to take her life with a combination of prescription and over-the-counter pills, in part due to her bipolar disorder, according to court documents. Further, Santa Barbara County's and Marian's attorneys showed that the Hayes' claims for damages were beyond the one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice.

The lawsuit was first filed on May 31 of this year.

Egan explained that while he and his clients may have filed suit outside the one-year window for medical claims, theirs were still within the allotted two-year statute of limitations for civil actions.

He also noted that in the middle of filing the Hayes' legal complaint, California's Appellate Court ruled that there are no private rights of action for officials' violation of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which creates procedural safeguards to protect against abuse.

"In other words, private citizens could not sue mental health professionals for violating the statutes set up to protect them," Egan said, who argued in court that the decision limits the ability of the mentally ill "or those being treated for mental health conditions to redress their grievances. ... It effectively takes away their voice. A fundamental right of all human beings is the right to be treated fairly under the law—total institutions like mental health facilities already have an inordinate amount of power to detain people on very thin ground."

Egan pointed to the 72-hour detainers health officials can place on subjects they believe are a danger to themselves or others, such as was the case with Cynthia after a peace officer at Marian, Epimaquio Gomez, determined she attempted to commit suicide.

"The limit on this huge amount of power in the hands of one person is to create a series of safeguards—checks—that provide the person to be detained with certain rights," he said.

Those rights include requiring an official to write a probable cause statement for detention, informing the detainee of their rights, and examining the detainee at the earliest opportunity by a physician.

"If these are missing, a person being detained is essentially being detained illegally," Egan added. However, the ruling by the Appellate Court on Julian v. Mission Community Hospital takes away a citizen's ability to file an action for that sort of legal detention, he said.

"We were caught in a very difficult situation in this case from a procedural standpoint," Egan explained. "Marian Hospital, we believed, did not employ Mr. Gomez or make the 72-hour hold decision, so we released them from the lawsuit early on. Vista del Mar Hospital claimed that our claims against them were for medical malpractice, if anything, and Judge Staffel agreed."

Vista Del Mar was dismissed without prejudice from the case, but the Hayes family could refile against them if they are able to discover a non-medical malpractice issue. Egan said the move kept Gomez in the case, which is important due to discrepancies in Cynthia's bloodwork, which Egan insisted throughout court proceedings came up negative for the 30 klonopin pills Gomez said Cynthia admitted to taking and used as a reason for the detainer.

"This case truly highlights the problems being faced by those who have mental health concerns but are not 'mentally ill' per se," Egan said. "Ms. Hayes, like many people, had some mental health concerns that were being treated on a regular basis through consultation with her physicians. That is very different than saying she had mental illness.

"We have to ask what the logical implications are for a system that does not allow people to have their concerns addressed," he added. "Will they stop seeking help for conditions that are otherwise relatively readily treatable out of fear that they will end up facing involuntary detention by a person with an agenda and little training and essentially complete insulation from legal liability? This is the problem the Hayes case makes very clear."

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