PAMED and AMA file brief in mental health case

Last Updated: Apr 11, 2024

Last week PAMED and the AMA filed a brief as amici curiae (friends of the court) in Wunderly v. St. Luke’s Hospital, et al., a case currently before the PA Supreme Court. Oral argument should occur this fall with the Court’s final decision to follow in the first half of 2025.

In this medical malpractice case, St. Luke’s Hospital and Above & Beyond Mountain View, an assisted living facility, were sued by Kathryn Wunderly (Appellant), the executrix of Kenneth Wunderly’s estate. Kenneth Wunderly was admitted to St. Luke’s for involuntary mental health treatment pursuant to Section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA). Wunderly remained in an involuntary inpatient status pursuant to Section 303 of the MHPA. While admitted, Appellant argues, Wunderly’s already existing pressure ulcers worsened. Wunderly was then moved to Above & Beyond Mountain View. Sadly, he died there on October 24, 2019.  

Appellant filed a negligence suit in June 2021, claiming that St. Luke’s and Above & Beyond were negligent in their treatment of Wunderly—specifically the treatment of his pressure ulcers. Appellees claimed immunity provided by a section of the MHPA. The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas found that immunity provision applicable and ruled for appellees dismissing the case. The parties agreed to drop Above & Beyond from the case in 2022.

Appellant appealed to the Superior Court. The Superior Court affirmed the county court decision, finding that the court did not commit error in applying the immunity provision regarding the treatment of the ulcers. The county court had determined that treatment for the physical wounds was incidental to the mental health treatment, making the MHPA immunity applicable to the ulcer treatment.

The PA Supreme Court decided to review the lower court holdings to determine whether the Superior Court erred in affirming the county court dismissal because, as Appellant argues, the MPHA immunity provisions should not have applied in this case. The amici brief argues that Appellant’s attempt to distinguish “failure to treat” and “negligent treatment” should be rejected. The brief also argues that any narrowing of the immunity provision will adversely impact mental health treatment in Pennsylvania. More specifically, narrowed immunity could lead to overtreatment, running counter to the MPHA’s goal of effective treatment via the least restrictive means. Read the brief here.

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