Family of man who harmed himself to appeal in malpractice suit

An appeal has been filed by a man and his family who lost a malpractice lawsuit against the Vancouver Island Health Authority, an emergency-room physician and psychiatric nurse.

Joseph Briante, represented by his mother, Carol Briante, had filed the malpractice suit alleging that a psychiatric nurse and emergency-room doctor who saw Briante failed in their psychiatric assessment and treatment.

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Briante was a lawyer whose life began to spiral downward in the summer of 2007. By October, his mental health was deteriorating rapidly.

On Oct. 29, 2007, he became delusional and paranoid, and feared being monitored, sacrificed or killed, his family said in court documents.

His family rushed him to Royal Jubilee Hospital’s psychiatric emergency service. They arrived at 4:50 p.m. and Briante told the triage nurse he felt as if he was having a nervous breakdown.

Briante was discharged at 7:30 that night without seeing the on-call psychiatrist. He was referred to outpatient counselling. In a psychotic state six days later, he slashed and stabbed himself in the neck and arm with a knife, resulting in severe blood loss and cognitive impairment. He is now unable to live independently.

Experts for the plaintiffs testified that with appropriate assessment and treatment, the vast majority of patients with psychosis improve.

Briante and his family argued in court that if he had been properly diagnosed and treated, he would not have suffered such a violent psychotic episode six days later, but the judge disagreed.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Keith Bracken ruled that the psychiatric nurse, an emergency-room physician and Island Health were negligent in the assessment and treatment of Briante, but could not be blamed for the life-altering injuries he inflicted upon himself days later.

“The best that can be said is that the referral might have made a difference,” Bracken concluded.

Briante’s family — mother Carol, father James and brother-in-law Carter Hovey — have asked the court of appeal to find that the negligence was the cause of Briante’s injuries and therefore the cause of the expense of caring for Briante and the harm the family endured.

That harm includes the psychological injury and trauma Briante’s family members experienced when the father and Hovey tried to hold him down while his mother attempted to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

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