BY MICHELLE SAHN
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled a New Jersey statute that gives mental health practitioners immunity from civil liability for patients' violent acts does not prevent a Marlboro resident from suing his wife's psychiatrist, alleging improper treatment in the weeks leading up to her suicide.
The court ruled 5-1 that the psychiatrist, with offices in Old Bridge and Brooklyn, cannot be sued for violating that state statute, which says doctors are immune unless they fail to warn someone when patients are at imminent risk of taking their own life or harming others.
In this case, the woman's close family members had not suspected her suicide was imminent and the doctor had not treated the woman recently enough to make such a determination, the court said.
But Craig S. Marshall can argue that Dr. Vladimir Klebanov deviated from the standard of care in his treatment of Ellen Marshall. With its ruling the court sent the case back to state Superior Court in Middlesex County.
Marshall's attorney, Alex Lyubarsky, said both he and his client are pleased with the decision, which will allow them to argue the doctor failed to properly monitor Ellen Marshall's condition. After the first visit, the doctor had no contact with her, even though she had been prescribed medication and diagnosed with major depression, he said. But the doctor's attorney, Alan Baratz, said he will ask the lower court to throw out the case because there is no evidence that the doctor, an educated, experienced psychiatrist, abandoned his patient.
In January 2000, Ellen Marshall saw Klebanov at his office in Old Bridge, then returned seven days later for her next appointment, but was not seen by the doctor.
Her husband says it was because she did not have the money to pay for the visit and the doctor did not accept credit cards. Klebanov said she was encouraged to stay, but she decided to leave to straighten out her medical insurance.
Ellen Marshall, 36, a mother of two, hung herself two days before her scheduled appointment on Feb. 4, 2000.