Preventable Suicide & Medical Malpractice
Holding Health Care Providers Accountable for Patient Suicide
Suicide is a profound and emotionally turbulent experience for families, many of whom ask themselves whether something could have been done to prevent it. Although such predicaments may focus on warning signs or things that could have been done by the individual’s family, they often go no further in exploring whether others may be accountable. However, there are some circumstances where seeking accountability for suicide is legally warranted.
Families of a suicide victim, under certain circumstances, may have the right to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against a health care provider for contributing to a patient’s suicide or for failing to prevent the suicide. Because these are difficult and delicate cases, and because they focus on complex concepts regarding a medical professional’s duty of care, they demand the attention of proven lawyers.
At Freidin Brown, P.A., our award-winning lawyers have cultivated a reputation for our work in medical malpractice law, and for our ability to protect the rights of patients and families who have suffered due to the conduct of doctors and other health care providers. By placing your trust in our caring and compassionate team, you can better understand whether you may have grounds to bring a malpractice lawsuit for your loved one’s death, and seek the justice and compensation you deserve.
Discuss your case personally with an attorney from our firm. Call (888) 650-0918 for a free and confidential consultation.
Failing to Prevent Patient Suicide: Can Providers Be Held Accountable?
Medical professionals have a legal obligation to provide adequate care to patients, whether those patients receive general exams and evaluations, emergency care, or ongoing treatment. This “duty of care” also means doctors can be held accountable for failing to uphold their legal obligations. In terms of medical malpractice, this is commonly illustrated when doctors and other medical providers are held liable for injuries and damages victims suffer when they make mistakes, such as a surgical error or failure to diagnose a serious condition other providers would have been able to diagnose.
Although the same duty of care applies to medical professionals who treat patients for psychological disorders – including psychologists, psychiatrists, primary care physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers – there are unique legal issues involved that can impact whether or not providers can be held accountable for a patient’s suicide. This largely stems from whether or not patients are treated on an “outpatient” and “inpatient” basis.
Outpatient Setting – A person is considered an “outpatient” when he or she receives medical treatment (ranging from ER services to exams, testing, outpatient surgery, and more) without being admitted to the hospital. Although doctors and health care providers don’t have an explicit duty to “prevent” a patient’s suicide when they’re treated on an outpatient basis, they do have the general duty of care to treat them in accordance with medically acceptable standards. Breaching this duty can potentially make a medical professional liable for the damages suffered by a patient, including the patient taking their own life.
For example, there have been suicide-related malpractice cases in Florida that dealt specifically with the obligations of providers who treat patients on an outpatient basis. In one notable case, which we discuss on our blog, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that providers can be held liable when an outpatient commits suicide as a result of healthcare providers’ failures to meet their duty of care. That particular case involved a doctor who failed to take immediate action in scheduling an appointment with a patient who reported they had stopped taking their anti-depressant medication and expressed difficulties with side effects and emotional unease, prescribed a new medication, and referred the patient to a gastroenterologist. Because it was found that the doctor knew that abrupt cessation of a particular anti-depressant increased the risk of suicide in patients and because the cessation was a “contributing factor” in the patient’s suicide, the court allowed the case to proceed to let a jury to decide whether the doctor failed to meet his duty of care.
Inpatient Setting – Although accountability for an outpatient suicide may be warranted in cases like those mentioned above, the duty of care providers owe to an outpatient are different from the duty of care owed to an inpatient. In an inpatient setting, health care providers assume a duty of care when they take custody or control of a patient. This includes a duty to prevent suicide when a patient is committed to a mental health facility or institution, or when a hospital has the means to supervise, monitor, and restrain a suicidal patient.
Ultimately, mental health facilities and hospitals may be held liable when an admitted patient with known suicidal tendencies harms themselves or takes their own life. Liability in such a scenario would focus on the professional’s or facility’s failure to protect and safeguard the patient from harm, particularly when they know the patient is suicidal and have the means to take preventative measures (i.e. restraints, supervision, specialized garments, policies, etc.) that would not allow the patient to hurt themselves or commit suicide.
Caring & Compassionate Trial Lawyers with 100+ Years of Experience
Medical malpractice cases are known for their complexity, and those involving issues such as mental health and suicide have even greater potential for legal challenges. If you have reason to suspect your loved one’s suicide may have been caused or contributed to by the actions or failures of a medical profession or health care facility, our team at Freidin Brown, P.A. encourages you to reach out to us as soon as possible. These claims are generally subject to a 2-year statute of limitations, and require ample time to investigate and construct a case.
To speak personally with a Miami medical malpractice lawyer from our firm, call (888) 650-0918 or contact us online. Consultations are free and confidential, and offered to resident throughout Florida.