In 2009, a man named Charles Williams, Jr. was brought to the Peninsula Regional Medical Center by his mother. Charles was behaving oddly, his mother Ginneene Williams said, claiming to be “under a Wiccan curse,” and hearing the voice of God. The 34 year old man also claimed to be suicidal. The staff at the PRMC chose not to admit him. Afterwards Charles and his mother went out to dinner, where his strange behaviors continued. Later that night, Charles broke into a home; when police were called to the scene, Charles rushed at them with a knife. He was shot 15 times and subsequently died.
Ginneene Williams filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that the PRMC’s refusal to admit her son to the hospital for treatment is what, essentially, led to his wrongful death. The case has been in and out of courts for the past three years: the original Wicomico County Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals both sided with PRMC, claiming that the medical malpractice lawsuit should be dismissed. Now the Maryland Court of Appeals must provide a precedent-setting decision regarding liability for mentally ill patients that doctors and hospitals choose not to treat.
Why this case is important
If a man showed up to a hospital complaining of chest and left arm pain and the hospital chose not to admit him, and then he died of a heart attack most people would agree the hospital was negligent for not admitting a person with clear symptoms of a potential heart attack. When a man comes to the hospital complaining of being under a Wiccan curse and hearing voices, it should be clear that the man is suffering from a mental illness and may be a danger to himself or others. Mr. Williams also claimed to be suicidal; how could the hospital NOT admit him? Our justice system puts prisoners under 24 hour surveillance if they behave in a suicidal manner – should we demand less of our doctors?
We’ll be following this case closely, so please check back for updates. If you have questions about Maryland’s law regarding liability or medical malpractice, we invite you to visit Plaxen & Adler, P.A. for more information.