Gravely Disabled

Gravely Disabled

One of the bases of detention in Washington civil commitment proceedings is that the person, because of a mental disorder, is gravely disabled.

The term “gravely disabled” is broad, and it can apply to a variety of circumstances and lifestyles.  Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act provides for two broad categories.  Essentially, a person is gravely disabled when they:

  • Can’t take care of themselves, or
  • Can’t control themselves.

Litigation of petitions involving grave disability requires a nuanced understanding of the law and an ability to collect and present evidence that paints a holistic picture of a person’s lifestyle and abilities. Some of the life circumstances that could lead to being considered gravely disabled include:

  • Being so paranoid and fearful of others that the person refuses to leave their house to buy groceries, or to go to doctor’s appointments.
  • Being so paranoid about food being poisoned that the person refuses to eat anything.
  • Taking long car trips without telling anyone where they are going or taking any money with them, and then winding up somewhere without knowing how they got there.
  • Simply having thoughts that are so disorganized that the person is unable to do simple tasks like showering and cleaning the house.

The statutory definition of “gravely disabled” is:

A condition in which a person, as a result of a mental disorder:
(a) Is in danger of serious physical harm resulting from a failure to provide for his or her essential human needs of health or safety; or
(b) manifests severe deterioration in routine functioning evidenced by repeated and escalating loss of cognitive or volitional control over his or her actions and is not receiving such care as is essential for his or her health or safety.
RCW 71.05.020(17)

Walla Walla attorney Jeff Burkhart is qualified to assist you with your legal rights and responsibilities regarding civil commitment in Washington.