Can A Doctor Be Liable For A Patient’s Suicide?
A Complex Issue
Medical malpractice is a tricky legal subject. In some cases, a doctor or other medical professional is clearly liable for an injury or death. But in other cases, like those involving a failure to diagnose, matters are much more complicated. The issue of patient suicide is one of these challenging areas.
Although 51% of psychiatrists report having a patient commit suicide, these cases are relatively rare. To determine if a case is malpractice, there must be proof that:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed. This means that the doctor agreed to provide professional, non-negligent care to the patient, in accordance with a standard of care. The doctor must act reasonably, or act as any other medical professional would in the same situation.
- The medical professional violated this “standard of care” through negligence. This could mean not properly supervising a patient, inadequately caring for a patient, or prescribing medication without seeing a patient, for example.
- The patient suffered harm.
- The negligence directly caused the patient’s harm. In suicide liability cases, direct causation can be hard to determine. Factors like medication usage or other health conditions may also play a role.
Other factors, like the amount of time that passes between the medical professional’s alleged negligence and the patient’s death, are also considered. Around 80% of the time, the medical professionals wins suicide liability cases, as negligence is very difficult to prove.
In Florida, however, the Supreme Court ruled this year that patient suicide can fall under medical malpractice. This decision was sparked by the 2008 suicide of a Florida woman. After telling her doctor that she stopped taking her antidepressant medication, the doctor still failed to see her. After her suicide, her husband sued the doctor and his medical group. In this case, the Florida Supreme Court found that the doctor failed in his duty to treat the woman, therefore making it a case of negligence and medical malpractice. While suicide liability is still a nuanced subject, this case sets the precedent for patient suicide falling under issues of medical malpractice.
If you have a medical malpractice case, especially one that involves a complex matter like suicide liability, it is important that you speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.