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Sherer v. Sarma

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

September 5, 2014

JANICE SHERER, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Sara Sherer Ott, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JAY SARMA, Defendant-Appellee Jacob Ott, Montgomery County Mental Health Department, Martha Benning, and Psychiatric Associates of Central Illinois, Defendants

As Corrected September 11, 2014.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County. No. 05-L-5. Honorable Allan F. Lolie, Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

The trial court properly entered summary judgment for defendant psychiatrist in the wrongful death and survival actions filed by the mother and administrator of the estate of one of defendant's patients who was stabbed to death by her husband, another patient of defendant, notwithstanding the fact that there was a direct physician-patient relationship between defendant and the victim, since defendant had no duty to protect or warn decedent in the absence of any evidence that her husband ever made any specific threats to harm her, especially when imposing such a duty on defendant would be contrary to case law and public policy and would be destructive of the patient-therapist relationship.

For Appellant: Kenneth James Hogan, Kenneth James Hogan, P.C., Galesburg, IL; James C. Brandenburg, Brandenburg-Rees & Rees, Carlinville, IL.

For Appellee: Christian D. Biswell, Drake, Narup & Mead, P.C., Springfield, IL.

Honorable S. Gene Schwarm, J. Honorable Thomas M. Welch, P.J., and Honorable Melissa A. Chapman, J., Concur. JUSTICE SCHWARM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

OPINION

Page 182

S. Gene Schwarm, Judge.

[¶1] In the circuit court of Montgomery County, the plaintiff, Janice Sherer, individually and as administrator of the estate of her deceased daughter, Sara Sherer Ott, brought wrongful death and survival actions

Page 183

against the defendant, Jay Sarma, M.D., alleging that Sarma had been negligent in her care and treatment of Sara and Sara's husband, Jacob Ott. The plaintiff appeals from the circuit court's order granting Sarma's motion for summary judgment on all counts against her. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] Defendant Sarma is a psychiatrist licensed to practice in Illinois. In 2003, her employment with Psychiatric Associates of Central Illinois included providing services to patients of the Montgomery County Mental Health Department in Hillsboro (the health department). Jacob and Sara were two of Sarma's patients.

[¶4] In 1997, when Jacob was a teenager, he began experiencing delusions and auditory hallucinations and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Springfield. During his hospitalization, Jacob was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and depression, and he was violent until his schizophrenia was stabilized with Clozaril. He was also prescribed Zoloft for his depression. Following his hospitalization, Jacob was treated and medicated by a psychiatrist in Springfield until August 2003, when he and Sara married and his care was transferred to the health department.

[¶5] On September 9, 2003, Jacob saw Sarma for the first time. Jacob also met with his assigned case manager, Martha Benning. Sarma noted that Jacob was doing well and that he and Sara had recently gotten married and were looking for an apartment. Jacob advised that he was stable on his medications, and he denied experiencing hallucinations or psychotic symptoms. The agreed treatment plan for Jacob was that he continue taking his prescribed medications and return in three months.

[¶6] On December 9, 2003, Jacob saw Sarma and Benning again. Benning noted that Jacob was in a good mood, and he denied having any psychotic symptoms. Jacob indicated that he was compliant with his prescribed medications. Jacob further indicated that he was happy in his marriage. Sarma noted that Jacob had seemed preoccupied, but he reported that he was doing well. Sarma recommended that Jacob continue taking Clozaril and Zoloft.

[¶7] On December 24 or 25, 2003, Jacob became upset about a gift of money that his father had given Sara for Christmas. Jacob subsequently took the money after telling Sara that she could not keep it.

[¶8] On January 4, 2004, Jacob and Sara went to the plaintiff's house, and Jacob confronted the plaintiff about her attempts to convince Sara to move back home with her. Jacob was angry and aggressive and wanted to fight the plaintiff. The plaintiff called Jacob's father during the encounter, but Jacob and Sara left before his father arrived. Thereafter, Jacob's family started checking up on him several times a day.

[¶9] On January 6, 2004, Jacob's mother called Benning at the health department and advised that Jacob had stopped taking his prescribed medications. She further advised that he had not been making threatening statements and that she did not believe that he was a danger to himself or others. Benning told Jacob's mother that he needed to restart his medications immediately and that voluntary hospitalization was an available option.

[¶10] On January 7, 2004, Jacob's mother took him to see Dr. Doug Byers in Springfield. Byers was told that Jacob had stopped taking his Clozaril as prescribed. Jacob made no threats and had not presented himself as a danger to anyone. Jacob told Byers that he had decreased his Clozaril intake to one pill a day because

Page 184

the medicine made him feel sluggish and affected his hearing. Jacob admitted, however, that he was now more irritable, was not sleeping very well, and was not " getting along very well." Jacob agreed to increase his Clozaril intake until he could meet with Dr. Sarma again.

[¶11] On January 8, 2004, Jacob and Sara attended a scheduled appointment at the health department. The plaintiff was initially present, but Jacob ordered her away, stating that the " problem" was between him and Sara. Minutes later, Sara left the appointment crying, and Sara indicated that Jacob had told her to leave. When Jacob met with Benning the same day, he told her that he had been off of his medications for four to six weeks but had restarted taking his Clozaril the previous night. Jacob reported that he was irritable and could not be around people. Benning noted that Jacob was psychotic and very fixed on his delusional beliefs, but he was neither aggressive nor combative. Jacob never threatened to harm Sara or anyone else, and Benning did not believe that he was a danger to himself or others. Dr. Sarma was not at the health department that day, and no one advised her that Jacob had stopped taking his Clozaril. Benning noted that Jacob had an appointment to see Sarma the following week. On the evening of January 8, 2004, Jacob and Sara went to Jacob's mother's house for dinner and then went back to their apartment.

[¶12] On the morning of January 9, 2004, Sara went to the plaintiff's house to borrow some laundry detergent and then returned home. Jacob's mother stopped by the couple's apartment at least twice that day to make sure that Jacob was still taking his Clozaril and things were " pleasant and normal between Jacob and Sara." That night, the plaintiff and her husband went to the apartment to check on Sara, and Jacob's father and stepmother were there, too. Jacob and Sara seemed ...


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