Estate of Timothy Maudsley v. Meta Services, Inc. – 6/23/2011

July 1, 2011

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Mental Health Facilities Owe a Care of Duty to Patients Seeking Mental Health Services.

On April 26, 2005, ValueOptions psychiatrists filed a Petition for Court-Ordered Evaluation in the superior court to require Timothy Maudsley (“Maudsley”), who was already a ValueOptions patient, to submit to inpatient psychiatric evaluation because of a mental disorder that rendered him “[p]ersistently or acutely disabled.”  Shortly after filing the petition, the police notified ValueOptions that Maudsley needed assistance after injuring his ankle.  In response, a ValueOptions employee picked Maudsley up and transported him to the Psychiatric Recovery Center and told the receptionist and another employee that Maudsley was a ValueOptions patient with a pending petition for court-ordered evaluation.  A short time later, Dr. Andarsio spoke to Maudlsey about his ankle injury and mental illness.  Dr. Andarsio asked Maudsley if he would go to the emergency room to have his ankle treated and then come back PRC.  After Maudsley agreed, an employee pushed Maudsley in a wheelchair across the parking lot to Maricopa Medical Center, where the emergency room admitted him.  Maudsley left, however, before being treated.  That night, Maudsley was struck by a car while attempting to cross the street against the stoplight.  He sustained severe injuries and died ten months later from complications arising therefrom.  Maudsley’s estate filed suit against ValueOptions and Dr. Andarsio, asserting claims for negligence and wrongful death. The superior court subsequently granted summary judgment to the defendants, ruling they did not owe Maudsley a duty of reasonable care.  The estate timely appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the defendants owed Maudlsey a duty of reasonable care.  To establish a claim for negligence in Arizona, a plaintiff must establish, among other things, that the defendant was under a duty to conform to a certain standard of care.  Whether a duty exists is a question of law to be determined on the basis of the relationship between the parties and whether public policy creates a duty.  In this case, the Court of Appeals determined that the Mental Health Services Act  – which requires mental health facilities to screen individuals seeking mental health services (see A.R.S. §§ 36-501 to -591) – reflects a public policy that imposes obligations on entities that screen, evaluate, and treat the mentally ill.  The Court determined that defendants thus owed Maudsley a duty of reasonable care.  Because the breach of that duty is an issue of fact normally reserved for the jury, the Court held that the superior court had erred in granting summary judgment.  The Court noted, alternatively, that summary judgment had also been inappropriate because a preliminary question of fact existed as to whether Maudsley’s interactions with Dr. Andarsio created a doctor-patient relationship that would give rise to a duty of care.

Judge Norris authored the opinion; Judges Gemmill and Orozco concurred.