PAMED Asks Court to Maintain Duty to Warn Standard

Last Updated: May 18, 2023

Last week, PAMED filed an amici curiae brief in Sinoracki et al. v. The Children’s Service Center of Wyoming Valley, et al., a current Superior Court case. The AMA joined in the brief. The case concerns the scope of mental health professionals’ duty to warn third parties of potential harm.

As background, Dr. Muhammad Khan, a psychiatrist, was providing mental health treatment to then-minor Zach Hockenberry. The outpatient treatment was being provided at the Children’s Service Center. During the period he was receiving treatment, Hockenberry stabbed David Sinoracki, his neighbor, to death, and also stabbed several other members of the Sinoracki family. Hockenberry had never voiced any threat to Dr. Khan concerning the Sinorackis. The Sinoracki family brought a medical malpractice suit against Dr. Khan and the Children’s Service Center. The Sinorackis alleged that Dr. Khan owed a common law duty of care to members of the Sinoracki family.

The Luzerne County trial court dismissed the case against Dr. Khan and the center, granting summary judgment, concluding that Dr. Khan did not owe the Sinorackis any duty of care under the alleged facts. Dr. Khan and the center are asking the Superior Court to affirm the dismissal of the medical malpractice suit.  

The PAMED/AMA brief argues that the case dismissal should be upheld for the following reasons:  A ruling for the Sinorackis would create an almost limitless duty of care to third parties; would undermine Pennsylvania’s longstanding public policy of treating mental health patients utilizing the least restrict means possible; and would discourage individuals from entering the field of mental health treatment.

Oral argument will be scheduled for a date in the coming months. The court’s decision can be expected late in 2023.  

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