The Justice Center is an administrative New York State agency that is in charge of the protection of vulnerable people, and that includes patients who have intellectual/mental conditions. That sounds like a laudable mission, but in my experience, the Justice Center often goes about proving its worth by finding negligence against the men and women who are employed to care for these unfortunate and, sometimes, dangerous patients. In my opinion, this desire by the Justice Center to be perceived as the champion of this patient population sometimes endangers the very people who are trying to help the patients while not being injured by those patients in the process.
So, what can you, as a medical professional who is working with these patients under the jurisdiction of the New York State Justice Center, do to protect yourself from an unwarranted finding of negligence which can end up making you unemployable? The first thing to understand is that when there is any type of problem with a patient, be aware that you can wind up being one of the people who is found to have been negligent. Therefore, when the Justice Center or your facility’s Risk Management Department comes to talk about the incident, do not write or sign any document without speaking with your own lawyer. In fact, you should have your own lawyer present for any discussion because the lawyer will be able to make certain that you do not inadvertently make yourself the target of the investigation.
Please notice that I have included an investigation done by your own facility. You might think that your employer will be looking out for your welfare and will protect you, but in many cases that is not what happens. Your facility is in fact looking out for itself, and you are often the person who shoulders all of the blame. Also, please note that your employer is often reporting the investigation to the Justice Center and there the decision is made as to who is going to be tagged with negligence. Accordingly, it is mandatory that you understand that everything you say can, and will, be used against you, even when it appears on the surface that the investigation is all about some other employee’s actions.
Often the investigation will be done by the Justice Center itself via an interview with you which is recorded. You should never attend that interview without an attorney who has reviewed the facts of the case with you. Sometimes you have an idea of what is important in the case, but the lawyer, who has gone through many of these types of cases, will be able to see other issues that might be harmful to your position.
Accordingly, I firmly believe that everyone working under the jurisdiction of the Justice Center should be exceedingly careful when being questioned about an event with a vulnerable person. You want to understand exactly how the Justice Center views issues, and how you can best protect yourself when being questioned by an investigator or when being asked to write a summary of an event. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.