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Murderer's relatives file medical malpractice suit

In Pitt County there is often cause for a malpractice or a wrongful death suit when a life is lost at the hands of someone's negligence. However, it is rare to see the relatives of a convicted murderer file a medical malpractice suit related to the murders. A Charlotte family is seeking damages against the hospital that sent a man home, who murdered three family members right after his release.

The murders on March 16, 2010 shook the city of Charlotte to its core, causing police at the press conference which followed the tragedy to fight back tears. The man responsible for the deaths reportedly visited the Carolinas Medical Center-Randolph the evening before the killings, his second visit to the hospital within a two week period. His complaints included anger, depression, and "seeing shadows of people" that weren't there. He also told medical staff he had been thinking of murdering his wife.

The man was sent home with a prescription for anxiety medications and antidepressants. He was also directed to make a follow up appointment. The next day he suffocated his wife, stabbed his 13-year-old stepdaughter to death, and suffocated his one-year-old daughter. His family believes those murders could have been prevented had the hospital taken his murder threats seriously and acted appropriately.

The hospital denies culpability, while the attorneys representing the family members are putting the inadequacies of the mental health system in Charlotte under fire. The lawsuit alleges that the medical center held a responsibility to notify his wife of his threats. The law permits, but does not require, notification to authorities if clinicians believe a "clear and imminent reasonably foreseeable danger of harm by a patient to a known specific victim" exists. However, hospital policy requires a supervisor be advised in such instances and, if appropriate, police and the intended victims. The man's family asserts specific danger existed, and seeks compensation for the hospital's negligent failure to take action.

While it remains to be seen what will come of the allegations made, they obviously raise important medical malpractice issues. When an individual suffers from mental health problems, every member of the family is potentially a victim, as is the unfortunate result in this tragedy.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, "Family of triple-murder victims sues Carolinas Healthcare System," Ely Portillo, Oct. 3, 2011

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