The Indiana Supreme Court recently examined whether an individual who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to voluntary manslaughter can sue his mental health providers for negligence and emotional distress. The case presented quite a complicated procedural and factual history and, ultimately, generated a strongly worded dissent by the Chief Justice.
By way of background, Plaintiff, Zachary Miller (Miller) pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the voluntary manslaughter of his grandfather, which left his grandmother, Betty Miller, widowed. The conduct and killing arising out of Miller’s actions generated two previous appeals arising out of the same conduct. In Miller I, a case we previously blogged about here, the Court found that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act’s (EMTALA) statute of limitations did not preempt a state rule allowing for amendments relating back to an original pleading. Next, in Miller II, which opinion can be found here, the Indiana Court of Appeals, in reviewing Betty Miller’s claim arising out of her husband’s death, found Zachary Miller’s mental health providers were not immune from liability under two statutory provisions for failing to warn or take precautions to protect others from a patient’s violent behavior.
In the subject of this blog, Miller v. Patel, et al. decided on June 29, 2023 (Miller III), the Court first examined the case background. Miller, who suffered from severe mental illness, killed his grandfather in January 2017 after receiving allegedly negligent care from his mental health providers. Miller pleaded guilty but mentally ill to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 12 executed. Miller filed a civil lawsuit against his providers, alleging that they failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care and caused him permanent injuries, pain, emotional distress, and loss of freedom from his incarceration. A medical review panel found that the providers were negligent, and their conduct was a factor of Miller’s damages. However, the trial court granted summary judgment for the providers, finding that Miller’s damages were not compensable under Indiana public policy and that he was estopped from relitigating his responsibility for the crime. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that 1) the providers failed to show there were no genuine issues of material fact and 2) collateral estoppel did not apply to Miller’s guilty plea.