December 10, 2014
Examples of actual cases in which we have been retained to obtain the release of a Baker Act patient include the following:
Case #1: An elderly woman (over 70) who still works and is completely independent, trips and falls in her apartment, injuring her face. Her roommate takes her to the local hospital emergency room. The emergency room staff has her involuntarily confined in the hospital’s Baker Act Unit and will not release her. Reasoning of the hospital: “She is a danger to herself.” She is not a danger to herself or to others. She has never been diagnosed with a mental illness before and has never been Baker Acted. Being involuntarily confined causes her to miss several medical appointments she had scheduled to follow up on chronic medical problems for which she receives regular treatment.
Case #2: President of a manufacturing company in another state comes to Florida for a business convention where his company is exhibiting. On the last night of the conference, he parties late, drinks too much, and a friend ends up taking him to a hospital emergency room. He has a plane ticket to leave the next day. The hospital emergency room staff diagnoses him with depression and has him involuntarily confined under the Baker Act. Reasoning of the hospital: “He is a danger to himself.” He misses his flight home and a company official has to come to Florida to try to get him released.
Case #3: The fairly new wife of a business man, who is out of town, already has one child in her care. She gives birth to twins, and, about six months later, the nanny quits. The wife and her husband finally receive a solid offer on their house (which has been on the market for four years) and they will have to move in three weeks. The wife goes to her OB/GYN for her routine follow-up visit. She is tired and run down from the loss of her nanny, getting ready to move, taking care of three young children. Questioning by her OB/GYN indicates she may be depressed. The OB/GYN has two nurses from his office walk her next door to the hospital emergency room to be Baker Acted. Reasoning of the hospital: “She is a threat to herself and her children.” Now her husband and kids are at home without a nanny and without mom. She is angry and upset because she is not suicidal, feels she has been betrayed by her doctor and is not a threat to herself, her children, or anyone else. She feels she is a prisoner, confined without any rights.
Case #4: Fourteen-year-old high school student breaks up with her best friend. She writes a note to her friend and states how badly she feels and that she feels like killing herself. She places the note into her English textbook and forgets about it. At the end of the school year, she turns in her textbook. The teacher finds the note and gives it to the principal. The principal calls her parents and the police. They all show up at the same time. Despite the parents stating they want to take their daughter to their own psychiatrist, the police take her to a Baker Act facility and have her involuntarily confined. She is alleged to be a danger to herself.
Tips for Lawyers Handling Baker Act Cases.
- Immediately send a letter to the facility notifying it that you have been retained to represent the patient. Ask to have your contact information placed in the patient’s record as required by Section 394.4597(2), Florida Statutes.
- Have the family contact any existing health professionals the patient is seeing and have them contact the facility to help obtain the patient’s release.
- Have the family contact and arrange for follow-up treatment after the patient is released. A psychiatrist is preferable to a psychologist, but in a pinch, the latter may work out.
- Meet with the family and arrange to have the patient closely monitored by or move in with family members after discharge.
- Immediately go to the facility and meet with the patient.
- Prepare and have the patient and family members execute affidavits as to the patient’s absence of any prior mental health issues, absence of any prior Baker Acts and lack of intent to hurt self or others. You can use these when you file a petition for writ of habeas corpus.