When an individual is the victim of medical negligence or medical malpractice, that person is normally afforded the opportunity to prove his case at trial. As a Georgia medical malpractice attorney, I believe this should be the case. However, Victor Bruscato and his father Vito, depending on what ruling the Georgia Supreme Court makes, may not be afforded this opportunity because of a long adhered to legal principle. On Monday, July 18, 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia heard arguments regarding whether to allow a medical malpractice case, brought by the father of a Georgia man accused of killing his mother, go to trial.
The story began in 2001 when Victor Bruscato began seeing Dr. Derek Johnson O’Brien at O’Brien’s community health Center in Gwinnett, Georgia. At that time, Victor was taking anti-psychotic drugs to help him manage violent and sexual urges. However, in May of 2002, Dr. O’Brien took Victor off of tow of these powerful drugs. Dr. O’Brien’s reason for this was to determine if Victor was developing a dangerous syndrome possibly related to these drugs.
After being taken off of these medications, Victor complained of nightmares, and he also claimed that the devil was directing him to do bad things. Three months after being taken off of these two medications by Dr. O’Brien, Victor was suspected of violently slaying his mother, Lillian Lynn Bruscato. According to police, Victor smashed Mrs. Bruscato’s head in with a battery charger and stabbed her 72 times. Victor was eventually charged with the slaying, but he was found not competent to stand trial and was committed to a state mental institution.
In the after math of this tragedy, Vito Bruscato, Victor’s father, sued Dr. O’Brien for medical malpractice. Mr. Bruscato alleges that Dr. O’Brien’s negligence caused his son to become psychotic, which resulted in the death of Mrs. Bruscato. Initially, the Superior Court held that Mr. Bruscato was barred from bringing suit. However, the Court of Appeals reverses that decision, allowing the case to go to trial. The primary issue in contention is whether a family, possibly involved in a crime, should be able to profit from potentially wrongful or illegal conduct. This is the issue currently before the Georgia Supreme Court.
Vito Bruscato and his attorneys contend that Dr. O’Brien is negligent, and thus liable for medical malpractice, because he took Victor off of two anti-psychotic medications when he should not have. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Bruscato’s attorney, William Quinn III, said that "fundamental fairness" requires that the Georgia Supreme Court allow the Bruscato’s case to go to trial. In Dr. O’Brien’s defense, his attorneys are arguing that an age old legal principle prohibits Vito from bringing this suit. According to lawyers, families involved in potential crimes cannot profit from that illegal conduct. Dr. O’Brien’s attorney Milton Satcher contends that the Bruscato family should not be able to shift the blame for the death of Mrs. Bruscato by blaming Dr. O’Brien.
It is true that one should not, and cannot, under the law profit from his crimes. For example, one cannot murder his father, and then claim an inheritance under his will. However, in the Bruscato’s circumstance, it is not the son who is claiming seeing compensation for harm done to his mother; it is a father, on behalf of his son, seeking legal compensation for harm done to his son. Based on the fact available regarding this case, it appears that Mr. Bruscato is not directly seeking compensating for the death of his wife. It appears that Mr. Bruscato is simply seeking to hold Dr. O’Brien accountable for the harm that his son suffered as a result of his possible medical malpractice.
Thankfully for the Bruscato family, the fact that Victor has been deemed legally incompetent and the fact that Mr. Vito Bruscato is brining this claim, and not Victor, may have a positive effect on the Supreme Court’s ruling. Seeing that Victor himself is not seeking to profit as a result of his own wrong doing, the Supreme Court may rule Mr. Bruscato’s can proceed to trial. In any event, I am of the opinion, as a Georgia medical malpractice attorney, that if a physician or medical institution is negligent, they should be held accountable. Hopefully the GA Supreme court does not allow the constraints of the law to prevent this family from seeking justice.