Can a physician be held liable if a patient commits suicide? That's a question that is now before the Florida Supreme Court.
The husband of a 55-year-old woman who killed herself in 2008 brought a medical malpractice case against her doctor, contending that he had not fulfilled his duty of care. The Sarasota County woman reportedly suffered from depression. According to the suit, she had called her doctor's office to say that she was suffering from mental strain.
After the call, the physician reportedly changed her medication. He also referred her to a gastroenterologist. Her body was discovered the following day. She had hanged herself.
The doctor's attorney says that there was "never an indication that this patient had anything other than distress and stomach issues." He says that she never told her physician that she was contemplating suicide. He argued that her death was "not foreseeable."
A circuit court judge ruled in the doctor's favor in the malpractice case. However, an appeals court reversed the lower court's decision, which allowed the woman's husband to go forward with his case.
Now it rests with the justices of Florida's high court. While it may be months before they make a decision, some of their questions to the attorneys indicate some of the questions that they may consider. One justice questioned why, with so many advances in our understanding of the human mind, a suicide couldn't be foreseeable.
The outcome of this case could impact the level of legal responsibility to which physicians are held when it comes to a patient's mental state and that person's actions as a result of that state. Regardless of the court's ultimate decision, if you believe that a physician was negligent in his or her care of a patient, whether for physical or psychological issues, it may be worthwhile to seek legal guidance to determine your options.
Source: News Health Florida, "Supreme Court Ponders Medical Malpractice In Patient Suicide," Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida, Sep. 03, 2015