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Christian v. Counseling Resource Associates, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

July 16, 2014

JOANN F. CHRISTIAN, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of BRUCE J. CHRISTIAN, NICOLE C. CHRISTIAN, LYNDSEY M. CHRISTIAN and BRUCE J. CHRISTIAN, JR., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNSELING RESOURCE ASSOCIATES, INC., a Delaware Corporation, J. ROY CANNON, LPCMH, ARLEN D. STONE, M.D., Individually and doing business as Abby Family Practice, and THE FAMILY PRACTICE CENTER OF NEW CASTLE, P.A., a Delaware Professional Association, individually and doing business as Abby Family Practice, Defendants.

Submitted: June 9, 2014

Upon Defendants Arlen D. Stone, M.D. and The Family Practice Center of New Castle's Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED

Richard J. Heleniak, Esquire, Messa & Associates, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Timothy A. Dillon, Esquire, McCann & Wall, LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

John D. Balaguer, Esquire, and Dana Spring Monzo, Esquire, White and Williams LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Defendants Arlen D. Stone, M.D. and The Family Practice Center of New Castle, P.A.

John A. Elzufon, Esquire, and Gary W. Alderson, Esquire, Elzufon Austin Tarlov & Mondell, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Defendants J. Roy Cannon, LPCMH, and Counseling Resource Associates, Inc.

ERIC M. DAVIS JUDGE

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Joann Christian, along with her three children, have filed this action for professional negligence against Defendants Arlen Stone, M.D. and The Family Practice Center of New Castle, P.A., and J. Roy Cannon, LPCMH, and Counseling Resource Associates, Inc. (collectively "Defendants"). The Christians seek damages for the January 8, 2008 suicide of Mrs. Christian's husband, Bruce Christian. The Christians' claim that Dr. Stone, Mr. Christian's primary care physician, and Mr. Cannon, Mr. Christian's mental health counselor, were negligent in their treatment of Mr. Christian, which in turn caused his death by suicide. Now before the Court is Dr. Stone's Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Motion").

Dr. Stone argues that summary judgment should be granted because Mr. Christian's suicide was an intentional and deliberate, intervening act which prevents the Christians from holding Dr. Stone liable. Mr. Cannon has filed a motion to join Dr. Stone in all of Dr. Stone's pending motions, including Dr. Stone's Motion for Summary Judgment now before the Court. For the reasons stated in this Opinion, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The background of this case begins with Dr. Stone's treatment of Mr. Christian as his primary care physician. Dr. Stone is a general practitioner with a family practice. Dr. Stone is not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Dr. Stone is affiliated with the Family Practice Center of New Castle, P.A. Dr. Stone became Mr. Christian's primary care physician in February of 2001.

On October 18, 2007, Mr. Christian went to Dr. Stone for a check-up. On October 30, 2007, Mr. Christian sought care for a constant urge to urinate and a cold. At that time Dr. Stone diagnosed Mr. Christian with prostatitis and referred him to a urologist. In addition, Dr. Stone prescribed Levaquin (an antibiotic) and instructed Mr. Christian not to return to work until November 5, 2007.

On November 5, 2007, Mr. Christian returned to Dr. Stone's office feeling very anxious and nervous with a loss of appetite and concerns about returning to work. Dr. Stone examined Mr. Christian and diagnosed him with panic attacks and anxiety. Dr. Stone prescribed Xanax for Mr. Christian, noting that Mr. Christian was to see the urologist in a week and that he should stay off of work until then. Dr. Stone also noted that if Mr. Christian's symptoms persisted, Mr. Christian would need to meet with a mental health professional.

On November 13, 2007, Mr. Christian returned again, reporting that he was suffering from frequent urination pressure but was otherwise doing better. Dr. Stone diagnosed Mr. Christian with "prostatitis" and "anxiety." Dr. Stone noted that if his symptoms persisted Mr. Christian would need a mental health professional.

On November, 26, 2007, Mr. Christian returned again, reporting left head pain, dizziness, loss of appetite and panic attacks. Dr. Stone felt that Mr. Christian's symptoms were such that Dr. Stone asked Mr. Christian about suicidal thoughts and ideations. Dr. Stone noted that Mr. Christian denied having suicidal thoughts. Dr. Stone continued Mr. Christian's prescription of Xanax and added Effexor XR (an anti-depressant). Dr. Stone also prescribed Rhinocort (nasal spray), and ordered a CT of Mr. Christian's head/sinus. Dr. Stone recommended counseling and advised Mr. Christian to call Dr. Stone if he felt worse.

Three days later, on November 29, 2007, Mr. Christian returned to Dr. Stone, stating that he had to leave work the night before, he was very dizzy and had a loss of appetite. Mr. Christian also requested that he remain off of work until his CT results were available. Dr. Stone noted that Mr. Christian was "not suicidal" in Mr. Christian's medical records which, according to Dr. Stone, indicates that Dr. Stone had again asked if Mr. Christian was suicidal.

On December 5, 2007, Mr. Christian was seen by Dr. Stone in order to review the CT results. Mr. Christian denied depression but indicated that he felt spacey. Dr. Stone referred Mr. Christian to an ENT. Dr. Stone also recommended that Mr. Christian seek counseling as well as the help of a psychiatrist, but did not refer Mr. Christian to any specific counselor or psychiatrist.

On December 11, 2007, Mr. Christian returned to Dr. Stone, reporting that his symptoms were unchanged. Mr. Christian spoke to Dr. Stone about the ENT visit and discussed scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Mr. Christian agreed to schedule an appointment with a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Dr. Stone also ordered lab work, which included a drug screen – out of concern that Mr. Christian might be using some drugs that were not prescribed. The drug screen results were negative.

On December 22, 2007, Mrs. Christian called Dr. Stone after noting changes in Mr. Christian's behavior and overhearing a conversation between Mr. Christian and a friend in which Mr. Christian stated he was having "bad thoughts." Mrs. Christian relayed this to Dr. Stone, leaving a message that "Dr. Stone, Bruce is not doing well at all, he is having bad thoughts." Mrs. Christian indicates that when Dr. Stone returned her phone call Dr. Stone refused to discuss Mr. Christian's condition and insisted that she speak to Mr. Christian directly.

Dr. Stone advised Mr. Christian to continue taking the Effexor but to come to the office during the following week to begin a program to reduce its dosage. Dr. Stone also recommended that if Mr. Christian was really feeling bad he should go to Meadow Wood Center for evaluation. Mr. Christian reported that he was not feeling bad, denied any suicidal thoughts or plans and felt that restarting the Effexor and seeing Dr. Stone at his office would work. Dr. Stone instructed Mr. Christian to contact him or go to the hospital for help if he felt worse or was going to hurt himself.

Dr. Stone last had contact with Mr. Christian on December 28, 2007. Dr. Stone and Mr. Christian discussed coming off of the Effexor. Mr. Christian denied having any suicidal plans. Dr. Stone gave Mr. Christian a titration schedule for the Effexor. Dr. Stone and Mr. Christian discussed Mr. Christian's upcoming appointment with a psychologist and Dr. Stone again recommended that Mr. Christian see a psychiatrist. Mr. Christian said that this had been denied by his insurance. Dr. Stone again instructed Mr. Christian to call if his symptoms worsened and to follow up in two weeks or sooner if needed. Dr. Stone did not hear anything from or about Mr. Christian again until Dr. Stone was advised of Mr. Christian's suicide attempt on January 8, 2008.

On January 3, 2008, Mr. Christian had an initial consultation with Defendant J. Roy Cannon, LPCMH. Mr. Cannon is not a medical doctor or a psychiatrist. Mr. Cannon is affiliated with Counseling Resource Associates, Inc.

Mr. Christian informed Mr. Cannon that he had been very depressed. Mr. Christian also told Mr. Cannon that the antidepressants he had been prescribed were not helping and that he experienced suicidal ideations prior to Christmas. Mr. Cannon questioned Mr. Christian as to how he would do so and Mr. Christian informed Mr. Cannon that he had thoughts of shooting himself. Mr. Christian assured Mr. Cannon that he did not have any current suicidal ideations and agreed that he would call Mr. Cannon at any time if he started to have any suicidal ideations.

On January 8, 2008, Mr. Christian attempted suicide at his home. At the time Mr. Christian's family was home as well. Mr. Christian went into a bedroom, placed a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Mr. Christian was rushed to Christiana ...


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