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Electroconvulsive Therapy Malpractice

Verdict for the Defense

Goodman, Theodore MD*; McCall, W. Vaughn MD, MS

doi: 10.1097/YCT.0000000000000196
Case Report

Objectives Malpractice cases involving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are rare. Even rarer are those malpractice cases alleging ECT-related brain damage. The few cases of ECT malpractice lawsuits are not described in the medical literature in detail.

Methods We provide a detailed account of a case of a patient and subsequent alleged ECT-related malpractice. The details of the case were collated using the handwritten notes of one of the authors who was present at the trial and the pretrial documents of discovery that were entered into evidence.

Results The plaintiff alleged complete autobiographical amnesia after ECT, supposedly as a result of ECT-related brain damage. The defense was aided by the presence of extensive neurological examination and brain imaging both before and after ECT. The defense team also offered to the jury the concept of “dissociative amnesia” as an alternative explanation for the plaintiff's memory complaints. The case went to trial and was successfully defended.

Discussion Electroconvulsive therapy malpractice cases alleging brain damage can be successfully defended, and the successful defense is aided by adequate documentation before, during, and after ECT.

Conclusions Malpractice cases, especially if they are baseless, can occur unpredictably, but they can be defended if the medical documentation is thorough.

From the *Sutter Center for Psychiatry, Sacramento, CA; and †Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA.

Received for publication September 3, 2014; accepted September 23, 2014.

Reprints: W. Vaughn McCall, MD, MS, Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University, 997 St Sebastian Way, Augusta, GA 30912 (e-mail:

Dr Goodman was a defendant in the described case, and Dr McCall is the editor of The Journal of ECT and he was an expert witness for the defense in this trial; otherwise they have no conflicts of interest in this report.

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