A judge with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that high-powered Hamilton medical administrator “falsely imprisoned” a McMaster cardiologist by forcing her into an involuntary psychiatrist assessment in 2006.
In his Sept. 30 decision, Justice Robert Reid ruled that Dr. Jennifer Everson was “negligent” in her decision to put the cardiologist — who had sought the hospital administrator's help in getting an appointment with a specialist for her ailing infant son — into protective custody and said the "improper completion" of the necessary paperwork meant that "detention of the plaintiff was not authorized by law" and thus constituted a "false imprisonment."
'She is very much interested in moving on with her life and only wishes to protect her family and its privacy.' —Michael Fraleigh, Dr. X's lawyer
Reid went on to award the plaintiff, whose name is protected under a publication ban, $133,000 in damages. He stated that the involuntary stay at St. Joseph’s Hospital, which lasted for about five hours on June 2, 2006, caused the plaintiff “psychological injury” that resulted in her taking on a reduce workload in her job.
The plaintiff, whom the decision refers to as Dr. X, is not commenting on the decision.
“She is very much interested in moving on with her life and only wishes to protect her family and its privacy,” said her lawyer, Michael Fraleigh, in an email to CBC Hamilton.
And Everson’s lawyer, Mark Veneziano, told CBC Hamilton that neither he nor his client, now an executive with the Hamilton-Niagara-Haldimand-Brant Local Health Integration Network, would be commenting on the matter.
Mother sought advice of multiple doctors
The plaintiff's unexpected hospital stay came after months of seeking doctors’ assistance in diagnosing her infant's ongoing illness. According to the decision, the baby, born in Aug. 2005, was “irritable” from birth, suffered from “feeding and constipation issues and would cry or scream for 18 to 20 hours per day.”
Initially, the plaintiff, described as an “intelligent and assertive” person with high standards for herself and others, she stayed at home with the child and then returned to work while her husband took a parental leave.
The mother took her baby to a pediatrician with the McMaster University Medical Centre, who diagnosed the child with acid reflux. However, the treatment seemed not to be effective, and the baby’s problems continued, causing the plaintiff to question the diagnosis.
She made appointments with more than one additional pediatrician within Hamilton Health Sciences, one of whom said he would conduct an endoscopy on the baby on the condition that the mother see a psychiatrist. Another doctor, the plaintiff testified, told her to relax about her son's condition.
These interactions, the judge wrote, caused Dr. X to fear she was viewed as an "anxious mother" by practitioners within the Hamilton Health Sciences hospital network.
As a result, in the spring of 2006, the plaintiff eventually sought Everson’s help in securing an appointment with a private pediatrician outside of that network, Reid wrote.
In their June 2, 2006 meeting, Dr. X visited Everson’s office at the McMaster University Medical Centre, expecting to discuss the referral for her child. According Reid’s decision, Everson listened to Dr. X for 10 to 15 minutes, and then served her with a Form 1, a document physicians in Ontario can use to order a mandatory psychiatrist assessment for patients they believe could harm themselves or others.
Dr. X was allowed to gather some of her belongings from her office, and was then taken in an unmarked police car to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
At the hospital, Dr. X was escorted into locked room for psychiatric patients and asked to hand over her belongings, including her clothes, and don a hospital gown. She received a full psychiatric evaluation by a resident and was released at around 10:30 p.m., about five hours after her meeting with Everson began.
'Failed to make a careful inquiry'
To establish that the plaintiff had been falsely imprisoned, Reid determined that Everson had improperly served Dr. X with a Form 1. The Ontario Mental Health Act stipulates that a physician must make a “careful inquiry into all the facts necessary” in their assessment of a patient’s mental state, and instead relied on the advice of colleagues who had seen Dr. X to make her decision.
“In my view, Dr. Everson failed to make a careful inquiry,” Reid wrote. “She failed to question the third parties accurately so as to ensure the reliability of the information received.”
In addition, Reid, relying on the testimony of Everson, Dr. X, and a hospital chaplain in attendance during the meeting, determined that the plaintiff was “cooperative and could easily have been asked questions designed to elicit the relevant information.”