One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked, since I started performing ‘348’ and talking about my experiences as a “troubled teen” within the psych industry is, “why didn’t/don’t you sue them?” This question comes from a belief that a legal battle could shut down an abusive facility, or at the very least eliminate future abuses. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
First, of course, there’s the statute of limitations– any allegations have to be made within a certain period of time, in order for charges to be made. In my case, that period is long over. Why not pursue it earlier then? Fear can be a very strong deterrent. Many teens emerging from such facilities are reluctant to speak honestly about their experiences, because they are terrified of being sent back. By the time they are legally adults, they can’t build the case, and facilities have been known to throw massive roadblocks up to any requests for files or patient information.
Beyond this— for the individuals who DO decide to sue— private and public mental health hospitals and facilities have powerful legal teams (you need to, in that business). It’s unusual for the case to make it to court. And, then, it’s even more unusual to win.
Today, I read a sobering article about what happens (in NY, at least) to individuals who DO win in their suits against abusive public psych hospitals: the hospital can then bill them for the abusive care! In one case, in which a woman was raped while institutionalized, “the judge ruled that a hospital might be negligent on some days while providing valuable services on others.” This essentially makes the facilities immune to any sort of punitive damages— they can simply recover their losses by sending the abused patient a bill!
You can read the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/nyregion/25damages.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss
It is difficult to build an accountable mental health system when hospitals and facilities cannot be effectively penalized for abusing their patients. Facing this sort of situation…. is it any surprise that many survivors of institutional abuse decide to not pursue their case?