CHICAGO (CN) – Police and doctors may be liable for institutionalizing a grief-stricken mother who learned that her son had been shot and said, “If something happens to my son, I’ll just die,” a federal judge ruled.
Susan and Thomas Dobrzeniecki live in Sauk Village, a suburb south of Chicago.
In November 2009, the Dobrzenieckis’ son Peter was shot in the face by an armed robber in Chicago Heights. When the police told Susan about the shooting, she allegedly said: “I’m a good person. Why does this keep happening to me? If something happens to my son, I’ll just die.”
Susan says she is a Sauk public servant and that village police have seen her as a thorn in its side ever since she criticized the department to a television news reporter in 2005. Susan claimed that Officers Rebecca Salisbury and James Vela held a grudge against her, and acted upon that grudge when she went to visit her son at St. James Hospital.
Vela and hospital security locked in a room of the hospital, and Salisbury took her coat, purse and phone, according to the complaint. Then Salisbury and Vela had her involuntarily committed.
That afternoon, the police used Susan’s confiscated keys to enter her home without a warrant and search for a gun, according to the Dobrzenieckis’ complaint. Her husband, Thomas, who has multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair-bound, repeatedly asked how the police got into his home and asked them to leave.
Meanwhile, Susan was allegedly kept at the hospital for 14 hours against her will and subjected to a battery of tests. “Hospital records reflect that Susan was upset at being held in a locked room, insisted she had to go home to take care of her husband, and said she was not crazy,” according to the court’s summary of the case.
Susan was forced to strip naked, undergo a medical exam, provide a urine sample and undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to the complaint. The hospital staff allegedly falsely told Susan that they had a court order to hold her there.
Later that day, Susan was transferred against her consent to a psychiatric facility where she underwent more tests until her release the next day. During the almost two-day period of confinement, she was never informed about her son’s potentially life-threatening condition, the Dobrzenieckis claimed.
U.S. District Judge James Holderman refused last week to dismiss claims against Sauk Village and five police officers, but he tossed a claim against St. James Hospital.
“Susan admits that after being informed that her son had been shot, she said ‘If something happens to my son, I’ll just die,'” Holderman wrote. “However, such a statement, made by Susan in the immediate aftermath of learning such distressing news, is very different from repeatedly saying that she wanted to die. Susan alleges she was not suicidal and never said she wanted to die.” (Italics in original.)
The seizure of Susan’s keys was an actionable loss, the judge found.
“The court cannot consider it a ‘trifle’ for police officers to seize a woman’s keys without reasonable grounds and use those keys to effectuate an unlawful search of her home,” Holderman wrote.
Susan can amend her medical malpractice claim against St. James because her physician’s certificate did not address any negligence by the hospital itself.
“The reviewing physician must discuss how the hospital itself deviated from the standard of care applicable to it,” Holderman wrote. “It is unclear what negligence Susan is alleging the hospital committed in its own right.”