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Psychiatric Malpractice Lawsuit

Though psychiatric medicine addresses conditions related to mental health, the harm caused by medical malpractice in psychiatry can have devastating physical, mental, and social consequences. Psychiatrists owe patients a duty to provide an accurate diagnosis, monitor the effects of medication, and make necessary adjustments to a patient’s treatment.  

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Patients rely on psychiatrists to provide an accurate assessment of their mental health conditions and effective treatment. They deserve a safe environment to confide their symptoms without being subjected to personal biases or abuse of power by the psychiatrist.  

While most psychiatric patients can enjoy normal lives with the correct treatment, psychiatric malpractice may extend suffering and prevent patients from functioning to their fullest potential. 

Nearly anyone can face a mental health challenge that requires treatment. Seeking help typically involves a level of vulnerability that could be easily exploited by psychiatrists.  

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to self-advocate while in a mental health crisis. The medical malpractice lawyers at Levin & Perconti help psychiatric malpractice victims get justice. 

What is psychiatric malpractice?

Psychiatric malpractice occurs when a psychiatrist breaches a duty to provide a reasonable standard of care, causing the patient to experience harm. Examples of psychiatric malpractice include: 

elder woman

Psychiatric Misdiagnosis

Diagnosing mental health conditions is not always straightforward because mental health conditions cannot generally be detected using laboratory testing. Symptoms of mental illness also manifest differently from one patient to the next. Additionally, mental health symptoms may be caused by physical conditions.  

Accurately assessing patients and monitoring their results requires insight that can only be gained by allotting sufficient time to interview patients while observing response patterns and body language.  

Outpatient psychiatric visits are generally 15 minutes long, according to Psychology Today, except for a one-time longer visit during the initial assessment. This does not always provide sufficient time to make an accurate diagnosis.  

Despite the mental health connection, most psychiatrists do not offer psychotherapy. As a rule, psychiatrists do not collaborate with talk therapists, so their diagnoses are based on observations gained during excessively short windows of time and the patient’s communications.  

Commonly Misdiagnosed Disorders 

An Ethiopian study published in the Annals of General Psychiatry found that 39.16 percent of patients with severe psychiatric disorders were misdiagnosed. The most commonly misdiagnosed orders were as follows: 


Rate of Misdiagnosis 

Schizoaffective disorder 

75 percent 

Major depressive disorder 

54.72 percent 


23.71 percent 

Bipolar disorder 

17.78 percent 

According to Psycom, a mental health resource organization, women with bipolar disorder are more frequently misdiagnosed than men. Women suffer from bipolar disorder for an average of 11 years before receiving a diagnosis, compared to a seven-year delay for men. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

A study published by BMC Psychiatry found that as few as 11 percent of patients receiving primary care who meet the clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder receive an accurate diagnosis. Of those who do, few receive adequate treatment, which would generally consist of talk therapy combined with medication.  

Borderline Personality Disorder 

Borderline personality disorder remains largely misunderstood in the mental health field, and misconceptions abound, including the erroneous beliefs that adolescents cannot have borderline personality disorder and that it does not occur in men.  

Borderline personality disorder is associated with a strong stigma in society in general and in the mental health field. It is one of the most frequently misdiagnosed disorders and is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. Some clinicians refuse to treat it, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

What causes a psychiatric misdiagnosis? 

The prevalence of misdiagnosis in the mental health field may be explained by the lack of time spent with patients, the overlapping symptoms inherent in various mental health conditions, and personal biases. 

Rushed Diagnosis 

A common cause of psychiatric misdiagnosis is the failure to spend sufficient time with a patient to develop an accurate sense of the patient’s mental state. Before an accurate diagnosis can be made, a psychiatrist needs a comprehensive understanding of the patient’s history and current mental status. 

Unique Challenges in Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders 

Diagnosing mental health disorders can be challenging because the symptoms of one disorder often overlap with others. Symptoms also manifest differently in different people. For example, symptoms of depression may present as brain fog in one patient while another patient with depression exhibits suicidal thoughts.  

As a result, patients with similar symptoms may have highly variable diagnoses, and patients with highly variable symptoms may have the same disorder.  

While clinical diagnostic criteria do exist for psychiatric conditions, they are extensive, and symptoms must be considered in concert with the patient’s overall physical and mental health status. Physical maladies may cause symptoms that appear related to mental health or vice versa.  

For example, a patient with chest pain could be suffering symptoms of a heart attack or anxiety. A patient with a traumatic brain injury may present symptoms that mimic bipolar disorder, according to Amen Clinics, a psychiatric organization. 

Unconscious Bias 

Internal prejudices are prevalent in nearly every facet of society, and unfortunately, the medical profession is no exception. This is apparent in rampant disparities in diagnosis: 

  • African Americans are more likely than white and Hispanic patients to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, despite the evidence failing to show that Black people are more likely than others to have schizophrenia. 
  • Women are more likely than men to have pain diagnosed as psychological in origin, according to Pain Research and Management.  
  • Symptoms of depression in Black women often include insomnia and irritability rather than more stereotypical symptoms like hopelessness, resulting in a higher incidence of missed diagnoses, according to NYU. 

Lack of Informed Consent 

As a patient, you have a right to understand the treatment being prescribed, including the risks and benefits. It is illegal for a psychiatrist to compel you to take medication without your consent 

You have the right to refuse treatment, and it is illegal for a psychiatrist to resort to deceptive or threatening tactics to compel you to accept treatment, whether you are an inpatient or an outpatient.  

A study by the Indian Journal of Medical Research found that psychiatric patients with major medical disorders are often competent enough to understand their treatment options and make decisions about their care.  


The insurance industry incentivizes psychiatrists to prescribe medication rather than offer psychotherapy to patients with depression, according to the American Psychological Association.  

Though psychotherapy is not associated with side effects and may be as effective or more effective than antidepressants, psychiatrists routinely prescribe antidepressants without combining the treatment with psychotherapy. 

Overdrugging of Children 

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, children are often overdiagnosed and overtreated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In cases of mild ADHD, the harmful effects of treatment may outweigh the benefits. 

The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that antipsychotic medications are often overprescribed to children in the foster care system, with foster children being two to four-and-a-half times as likely as children in the general population to receive these medications. 

U.S. News & World Report reported in 2015 about a study that found antipsychotic medications like Risperdal are more frequently prescribed to children and youth for such conditions as ADHD and disruptive behavioral disorders than for conditions related to psychosis.  

More than half of the youth prescribed these medications lacked a mental health diagnosis. Of the children taking these medications, fewer than 25 percent received other therapy services. The apparent aim of prescribing these medications seemed to be to control undesirable behaviors rather than provide therapeutic benefits. 

Inappropriate Antipsychotic Use in Nursing Homes 

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 18.5 percent of nursing home residents in Illinois receive antipsychotic medications. BMC Psychiatry reports that approximately 1.7 percent of the general population receives these medications. 

This dichotomy points to the improper use of these drugs as a form of chemical restraint. They are often prescribed to patients regarded by nursing home staff as difficult, and many of these patients have dementia.  

Antipsychotic drugs can have serious long-term and short-term side effects, and they are associated with an increased risk of death in elderly patients with dementia.  

Sad elder man in a nursing home

Psychiatric Abuse

Seeking mental health treatment requires courage. The patient is in an inherently vulnerable position, while the psychiatrist is in a position of power and authority. A relationship between a patient and a psychiatrist that oversteps the bounds of a professional doctor/patient relationship is harmful. The following behaviors by a psychiatrist constitute abuse: 

  • Sexual advances or innuendos 
  • Pursuit of a romantic relationship with a patient 
  • Verbal abuse 
  • Physical contact in general 
  • Physical assault 
  • Threats 
  • Manipulation 

It is important to note that when a doctor engages in an inappropriate relationship with the patient, it is the doctor who is in the wrong, not the patient. The patient is the victim. 

Inpatient Psychiatric Abuse in Chicago 

Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, one of the largest behavioral health-care providers in the state, temporarily closed down in 2020, according to Propublica, amid rampant allegations of the sexual abuse of children and numerous safety violations. It was locally known as a “hospital of horrors.” 

Health Affairs, a leading journal specializing in health policy, has documented the following abuses throughout the nation’s psychiatric health facilities: 

  • Fraud 
  • Lack of documentation 
  • Sexual assault by other patients 
  • Sexual assault by staff 
  • Overzealous security 
  • Lack of cleanliness 
  • Disrespect for patient rights 
  • Patient violence 
  • Lack of safety checks 
  • Overprescribing of medications 

These abuses include offenses in children. A number of patients have died as a result, some by suicide.  

Outpatient Sexual Abuse in the Chicago Area 

In 2015, a Springfield psychiatrist received a two-year suspension for sexually abusing a patient who had previously been sexually abused by another psychiatrist in the same practice. The abuse included multiple sexual encounters and inappropriate emails.  

According to state officials, the patient attempted suicide multiple times while this was occurring. The case is illustrative of the types of abuse and resulting harm invovlved is psychiaitric abuse.  

Effects of Psychiatric Malpractice

Psychiatric malpractice can have devastating physical and emotional effects that may last a lifetime or even lead to death. 

Incorrect Medication 

Psychiatric drugs often have serious side effects. When you are misdiagnosed or receive the incorrect medication, you may face severe side effects without receiving therapeutic benefits. According to Psych Central, side effects of psychotropic medications include: 

  • Drowsiness 
  • Restlessness 
  • Nervousness 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Tremors 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Headaches 
  • Insomnia 
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Mood swings 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • High blood pressure 

Psychiatric drugs can also lead to long-term health complications, including an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and sudden death from heart attack or stroke 

According to Cardiology Today, 18 percent of patients in a study of 12,913 suffering from ischemic heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, or valvular heart disease reported using psychotropic medication. 

Reduced Quality of Life 

Psychiatric errors can result in extended suffering, frustration, hopelessness, and suicide. Many psychiatric patients can live normal, happy lives with the right treatment. As long as they are denied the necessary therapeutic approaches, they continue to face: 

  • Unemployment 
  • Stigma 
  • Relationship problems 
  • Difficulty performing daily responsibilities 

Suicide and Psychiatric Malpractice 

A psychiatrist may be liable for a suicide that occurs due to medical errors or in cases involving a suicide that was reasonably foreseeable based on the information available to the psychiatrist leading up to the suicide.  

According to Focus: The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychology, the specialized training psychiatrists undertake creates an expectation that they should be able to identify suicide risks in their patients, especially in light of their clinical relationship. 

In some cases, suicide may have been preventable if an appropriate medication had been prescribed. In other cases, a psychiatrist may be held liable for prescribing an inappropriate medication or failing to monitor its effects. For example, antidepressants are associated with a higher risk of suicide in children and youth. 

Do I have a case for psychiatrist malpractice?

You may have a case for psychiatric malpractice if your attorney can prove the following elements of medical negligence: 

  • Duty of care: You had a doctor/patient relationship with the psychiatrist. 
  • Breach of duty: The psychiatrist failed to provide a reasonable standard of care or behaved unprofessionally. 
  • Injury: You suffered an injury that you would not have except for the breach of duty. 
  • Proximate cause: The breach of duty is the direct cause of your injury. 

How To Prove a Psychiatrist Was Negligent

Proving the elements of negligence will require the assistance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney with the necessary resources to perform a thorough investigation of the misconduct. At Levin & Perconti, we accomplish this by: 

  • Investigating your medical records  
  • Interviewing witnesses about the misconduct and its effects 
  • Reviewing the psychiatrist’s disciplinary record 
  • Consulting with medical and pharmaceutical experts 

Investigating a psychiatric malpractice case requires sensitivity and compassion. It also requires extensive resources. Our law firm has been handling medical malpractice cases since our establishment in 1992, and we have grown into a nationally recognized law firm with a strong network and a reputation for success. 

How much compensation can I receive for psychiatric malpractice?

The compensation you can recover depends on the severity of your injuries and their financial impact. Compensation in a psychiatric malpractice case may include the following economic and noneconomic damages: 

  • Medical expenses that stem from the malpractice 
  • Lost wages 
  • Lost earning capacity 
  • Lost opportunities 
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Loss of society 
  • Loss of ability to enjoy life 
  • Humiliation 
  • Inconvenience  

Our law firm recently attained a $530,000 settlement on behalf of a 36-year-old psychiatric malpractice client who developed chronic pancreatitis due to a psychiatrist’s negligence in prescribing Depakote.

Statute of Limitations

The Illinois statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is generally two years from the date the injurious conduct occurred.  

If the effects of the conduct were not immediately discovered, you can file up to two years from the date you discovered the injury. However, the date of filing must not be more than four years after the injurious conduct occurred.

Why Choose Levin & Perconti for a Psychiatric Malpractice Lawsuit

The personal injury attorneys at Levin & Perconti have more than 200 years of experience standing up for injured patients, including patients grievously injured from psychiatric malpractice.  

We understand the sensitive nature of cases involving psychiatric errors, and you can count on our attorneys to handle your case with sensitivity, respect, kindness, and confidentiality. 

Our clients can attest to the compassionate advocacy we offer and the results we consistently achieve:

Partners at Levin & Perconti, national medical malpractice attorneys with backdrop of downtown Chicago, IL

Can I afford a psychiatrist malpractice lawyer?

At Levin & Perconti, we believe financial limitations should never create a barrier to justice. As a result, we accept cases on a contingency basis, which means we charge nothing up front. We only get paid if you recover a settlement or jury award.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Psychiatric Malpractice Lawyer at Levin & Perconti

If you have been injured because of psychiatric malpractice, you deserve justice. The statute of limitations limits the time we have to gather evidence and prepare your case, so retaining counsel promptly is critical. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.