Lawsuit faults McLean in death of 2 innocents

Discharged patient killed children, self

By Jonathan Saltzman
The Boston Globe, January 26, 2010

The parents of two young children whose aunt carried them to their deaths on a Lowell highway in 2008 sued McLean Hospital in Belmont yesterday for allegedly failing to properly treat the woman’s mental illness.

Ken and Danielle Lambert, of Brentwood, N.H., contended in the Suffolk Superior Court suit that the renowned Harvard-affiliated psychiatric facility provided inadequate care to Danielle’s identical twin, Marcelle Thibault, and was responsible for the wrongful deaths of their 5-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, and 4-year-old son, Shane. Thibault, 39, also was killed on Jan. 11, 2008, when she carried the children into traffic on Interstate 495.

The Lamberts told the Globe after the deaths that McLean psychiatrists had diagnosed Thibault with bipolar disorder in September 2007 and discharged her six days later after prescribing psychotropic drugs and recommending outpatient therapy. But, the couple said, doctors never told family members about the risk Thibault might pose to others or herself.

“Had they been warned of this potential,’’ the Lamberts’ lawyer, Andrew C. Meyer Jr. of Boston, said yesterday, “they never would have allowed the children to be in her care that night.’’

Also named as defendants in the suit are three McLean staff members: psychiatrists Dr. Matthew E. Bernstein and Dr. Mia D. Pfleging and licensed social worker Kathryn Healey.

Adriana Bobinchock, a McLean spokeswoman, said the hospital cannot comment on pending litigation.

The Lamberts face significant obstacles in their suit, including confidentiality laws that limit what medical providers can disclose to third parties and a ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court last year that narrowed the duty of providers to protect such parties, according to David W. White, a Boston lawyer who represents plaintiffs in wrongful death claims. “But it’s fair to say this is still an evolving area of the law,’’ said White, who is not involved in the case.

The Lamberts told the Globe in December 2008 that they thought they had no reason to worry when Thibault arrived at their house about 8 p.m. on a Friday to pick up Kaleigh and Shane for a sleepover at her Bellingham house. She had been out of the hospital for four months, seemed nearly fully recovered, and was behaving normally when she collected the pajama-clad children, along with their favorite pillows and sleeping bags.

Thibault did not tell the Lamberts that earlier that evening, State Police had come close to detaining her for a psychiatric evaluation when they found her behaving erratically on the median strip of I-495 in Andover, punching a motorist who had stopped to assist her.

Thibault told a trooper she was having a “debate between good and evil,’’ according to State Police documents obtained by the Lambert family.

After leaving New Hampshire with her niece and nephew, Thibault crossed the median of I-495, stopped her car in the wrong direction, undressed herself and the two children, and ran them to their deaths. According to one eyewitness, she was screaming about religion before she was hit.

The Lamberts had also considered suing the State Police for not detaining Thibault for a psychiatric evaluation. But Meyer said Massachusetts law makes it extraordinarily hard for plaintiffs to prove liability against police officers in wrongful death claims.

A State Police spokesman told the Globe that Thibault had calmed down after flailing at the motorist, who did not want to press charges, and that troopers did not have enough evidence to detain her.

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