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Medical Malpractice and Preventable Suicide During COVID-19

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The recent crisis surrounding the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has brought the issue of suicide to the forefront, as those most at risk are often isolated through remote working and stay-at-home orders. According to an April 10, 2020 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, social distancing has the positive impact of reducing the rate of new COVID-19 cases – but the adverse implications are high for suicide risk. Economic stress, lack of socialization, reduced access to support communities, and other factors take their toll on individuals who already experience disconnection or depression.

Still, all of these factors are identifiable, which means that suicide can be a preventable event. When someone takes their own life, surviving loved ones will often question the efficacy of the medical care he or she received. You may wonder whether you have legal rights under Florida law in such a situation, and a knowledgeable preventable suicide malpractice attorney can advise you on your options. Some background information may also be helpful. 

Preventable Suicide Malpractice Hinges on Foreseeability: Some levels of depression are common among many people, but not all will act based upon negative emotions. A smaller proportion of depressed individuals will contemplate suicide as a means of ending mental distress and suffering. If a person does discuss these thoughts with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional, foreseeability becomes an issue – thus raising the potential for a preventable suicide lawsuit. There may be grounds for a medical malpractice case if the patient:

  • Already attempted suicide;
  • Demonstrated behavior indicating a goodbye to loved ones;
  • Was taking prescription medication that tends to increase thoughts of suicide;
  • Had a history or drug or alcohol abuse;
  • Suffered some form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in the past;
  • Spoke in detail about a plan to take his or her life; or
  • Indicated other signs that made suicide a foreseeable event.

Additional Factors to Support a Medical Malpractice Claim: Cases involving medical negligence don’t hinge upon foreseeability alone, despite the presence of the above predictors of suicide. The next question is whether the health care professional breached the standard of care (i.e., what a reasonably careful practitioner would have done under the circumstances) by not doing something that could have prevented the patient from taking his or her life. With this issue, preventable suicide malpractice claims get tricky because a provider must balance:

  • Confidentiality, privacy, and the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship; and
  • The need to communicate the risk to the patient’s family, loved ones, or relevant government authorities.

Generally, any action taken by the physician is judged by the reasonableness standard: If another reasonable health care provider would have acted the same under the circumstances, you may not have a case.

Trust a Florida Preventable Suicide Malpractice Lawyer for Advice and Counsel 

If a loved one died through suicide and you question whether health care providers negligently overlooked the warning signs, please contact the Miami preventable suicide lawyers at Freidin Brown, P.A. Our team serves clients throughout South Florida in a wide range of medical malpractice cases, including preventable suicide claims. We’re happy to set up a free consultation to discuss the surrounding circumstances and determine next steps.

Resource:

jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2764584

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