Health Care Law



Jury Exonerates Psychiatrist Accused of Causing Patient’s Death by Failing to MonitorLithium Level;  Plaintiff’s Expert Psychiatrist Disciplined for False Testimony


        In Debbie Ahern, Adm. of the Estate of John A. Ahern v. John Doe, M.D., it was alleged that the defendant psychiatrist’s negligent monitoring of the decedent’s lithium level had caused the decedent’s demise. Plaintiff’s counsel consulted psychiatrist #1 to ascertain if the named defendant’s treatment of the decedent met the prevailing standard of care. After reviewing the decedent’s medical records, psychiatrist #1 concluded that violations had occurred and prepared a four page single spaced letter detailing them.


      As psychiatrist #1 was dependent upon physician referrals, he declined to be named as the plaintiff’s expert in the subsequent lawsuit. Accordingly, plaintiff’s counsel consulted and retained psychiatrist #2, who agreed to prepare a report and testify in court against the named defendant.


      During the course of discovery plaintiff’s counsel inadvertently provided the report of psychiatrist #1 with that of psychiatrist #2 to defense counsel, Robert B. Yules. While Attorney Yules was outlining the reports of psychiatrists #1 and #2, they fell on the floor. In picking them up he noticed that they appeared similar. With the use of colored markers, he determined that the reports were reverse mirror images of one another, i.e., paragraph 1 of the report of psychiatrist #1 was the last paragraph of the report of psychiatrist #2, word-for-word.


      At his deposition, psychiatrist #2 testified that he did not confer with anyone in the preparation of his report and it was his own creation. Thus, the delicate issue became how to show the Court and jury that psychiatrist #2’s report was that of psychiatrist #1.  With the aid of a professional exhibit maker each sentence of psychiatrist #2’s report was reproduced on a board followed by its page, paragraph and sentence number. Below it was reproduced the corresponding sentence from psychiatrist #1’s report with its location information. Psychiatrist #1’s sentence and position info was hidden by a board secured with Velcro.


      At trial on cross examination by Attorney Yules, psychiatrist #2 testified that he prepared his report without input from anyone. When asked about a particular sentence, he stated how he composed it. Then, Attorney Yules would unmask the corresponding sentence of psychiatrist #1’s report showing that the sentences of the two reports were identical. After filling the courtroom with 15 poster size boards it was evident that psychiatrist # 2 was not being truthful.


      It took the jury less than an hour to find the defendant not negligent in the treatment of the plaintiff’s decedent. After the jury was dismissed, the Court on motion of defense counsel had psychiatrist #2 bound over for perjury prosecution by the Office of the State’s Attorney, Connecticut’s prosecutorial attorneys.


      As a result of a criminal investigation, psychiatrist #2 negotiated a plea deal.  In return for not being criminally prosecuted, psychiatrist #2 agreed to post a sign in his office telling patients that he was under scrutiny by the authorities, was required to donate $10,000 to charity, and had to perform 500 hours of community service.