this conversation, he denied any suicidal intent or ideations.
g. After his conversation with Ms. Thomas, Jeffrey and his brother prepared to watch television. They decided they needed cigarettes and snacks, so at or about 7:30 p.m., Tony went to a store a short distance away. When he returned home about twenty to twenty-five minutes later he discovered that Jeffrey had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a rifle that was kept loaded in his mother's room.
9. This Court further concludes that no evidence was presented at trial that the defendant breached the applicable standard of care in the care and treatment rendered Jeffrey Miller at the VAMC from April 8 through April 12, 1985. The plaintiff's medical expert, Dr. Merrill Berman, proffered testimony that the defendant breached the standard of care in failing to notify the Virginia police when it was discovered that Jeffrey had left the hospital and in failing to be rigorous in informing family members of the danger and urging that they return Jeffrey to the hospital. Dr. Berman further testified that the failure to inform family members and urge them to return Jeffrey to the hospital was the proximate cause of Jeffrey's death.
10. Dr. Berman's position that the defendant breached the standard of care in failing to notify the Virginia police was based on an erroneous assumption that Jeffrey Miller was actively suicidal at the time he left the hospital. No testimony or other evidence introduced at trial would substantiate this position. Although Jeffrey had expressed some suicidal ideation at the time of admission, he had no suicidal intent, nor did he have a definitive suicide plan. The medical records document that he repeatedly denied suicidal ideation after his admission and appeared to be planning for the future. He even expressed a desire to get a job.
11. It was the testimony of the defendant's expert, Dr. David Goldstein, that it is customary for practitioners to notify the police that a patient has left the hospital only in those situations where involuntary hospitalization is an issue. We credit this testimony. For a person to be hospitalized involuntarily there must be some evidence that he is an imminent threat to himself or others. Jeffrey Miller had voluntarily hospitalized himself. There was no evidence in this case to support a finding that Jeffrey Miller was an imminent danger to himself or others at any time prior to the moment he shot himself, or that defendant's medical personnel at VAMC were aware or should have been aware of such danger.
12. In addition to his failure to provide a reasonable basis for his position that the applicable standard of care required notification of the police, Dr. Berman was unable to substantiate that the VAMC's failure to notify the police was the proximate cause of Jeffrey Miller's death. He admitted that he did not know whether the police would have responded, or, if they had responded, whether they could have prevented the suicide, given the short period of time between the discovery of Jeffrey's absence and his death.
13. Dr. Berman's second contention, that the defendant's failure to warn Jeffrey's family adequately and to urge them to return him to the hospital proximately caused Jeffrey's death, is equally without merit. The medical records and the testimony at trial clearly show that the family early on had notice that Jeffrey had expressed some suicidal thoughts. On the other hand, there was no evidence presented at trial to substantiate a finding that the family would have taken any different course of action had it been provided additional information. Dr. Berman's opinion that the failure to adequately inform the family was the proximate cause of Jeffrey's death is thus unsubstantiated. It was based on speculation and assumptions without any reasonable basis.
14. Finally, the plaintiff has failed to present any competent evidence to substantiate a finding by the Court that the defendant, between April 8 and April 12, 1985, breached the standard of care applicable to the care and treatment of Jeffrey Miller at the facility, or that any alleged acts or omissions by the defendant after Jeffrey Miller absconded on April 12, 1985, were the proximate cause of his death. Jeffrey Miller's suicide was an act of impulse directly resulting from his long existing mental illness.
An Order consistent with the foregoing has been entered this day.
ORDER - March 21, 1990, Filed
This case was tried before this Court on July 25, 26, and 27, 1989. The Court has considered the evidence presented, the arguments of both parties, and the applicable legal standards. For the reasons stated in accompanying Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law entered this day, it is this 20th day of March, 1990,
ORDERED that judgment is entered in favor of defendant; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that this case is dismissed with prejudice.