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Depressed teacher's right to sue his doctor is wiped out by drunken driving incident

James Idziak sued his doctor, Robert Holwerda, D.O., alleging that Holwerda had mis-treated his severe depression.  Idziak lost his teaching job after "going off the deep end" apparently, and fleeing police officers to avoid a drunken-driving arrest.  Idziak alleged that his inappropriate behavior on the night he was arrested was a foreseeeable development of many years of improper treatment for depression.  The Doctor's insurer asked the court to dismiss the case because the statute of limitations had run on most of Idziak's doctor visits and his illegal conduct foreclosed any negligence lawsuit.

The Court of Appeals wrote a very brief opinion recognizing that the statute of limitations had run with respect to most of Idziak's claim.  It also held that under the "wrongful conduct rule" Idziak could not maintain an action if, "in order to establish his cause of action, he must rely, in whole or in part, on an illegal or immoral act or transaction."  Sadly, this outcome completely misapprehends the nature of Idziak's claim and mis-applies the wrongful conduct rule. 

The latter rule has historically been applied to injuries that occur during criminal behavior:  for example, a joy-rider cannot sue if his illegal vehicle use results in injury.  As the Court recognized in one of our cases (Downey v. Charlevoix County Road Commission) more than a decade ago, if a mentally ill person acts out inappropriately--BUT FORESEEABLY--AS A RESULT OF SOMEONE ELSE'S FAULT, the acting out does not provide immunity to the originally at-fault defendant. 

If Idziak could  prove that negligent treatment of depression genuinely and foreseeably culminated in his "night on the town" misbehavior, the culpable doctor should be held responsible right along with Idziak:  misbehavior that someone negligently caused should not get him "off the hook."  The Court's decision in this case seems to be pitifully ignorant of genuine mental health issues.

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