Enforcing Rights Against Forced Treatment Through Damages Actions

William Brooks, J.D.

The nebulous nature of mental illness and dangerousness provides ample opportunity for the psychiatric profession to exercise an excessive degree of discretion civilly commit and subject individuals to forced treatment. Damages actions serve to both deter unlawful exercise of psychiatric judgment and provide compensation to those who have suffered harm.

This workshop will provide a roadmap for lawyers who wish to challenge confinement and forced drugging through damages action. It will first discuss the different causes of action for wrongful confinement and forced administration of medication under state and federal law and analyze legal standards governing these claims. The workshop will also address the state action doctrine and the degree to which a litigant may use the federal courts to pursue claims against private hospitals that have engaged in coercive treatment. This workshop will then focus on how to proceed with litigation once a decision has been made to file suit. This includes focusing on how to challenge psychiatric assessments of mental illness and danger at both the deposition and trial stages.