When are doctors or hospitals responsible for the suicide death of a patient? The damage that suicide causes is significant. Last year over 34,000 people died by suicide and over a million adults made suicide attempts in the United States alone. Interestingly, males complete suicide at a rate 3.6 times that of females. However, females attempt suicide three times more often than males.
There are clear warning signs when an individual suffers from suicidal tendencies. In such cases, it is the responsibility of a medical provider to act in any way necessary to prevent the patient from harming him or herself. When a doctor fails to provide the requisite care needed to reasonably prevent the individual from harm, the physician or hospital may be guilty of medical malpractice.
Florida’s medical malpractice statute governs the responsibilities of healthcare providers. In particular, Florida Statutes 766.102 requires all doctors and hospitals to provide patients with reasonable care. Specifically, a patient or the patient’s family has the burden of proving by the greater weight of evidence that the alleged actions of the health care provider represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider. The prevailing professional standard of care for a given health care provider shall be that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.
In Florida, as a general rule, ” this is no liability for the suicide of another (or for injuries sustained in a suicide attempt) if there is no duty of care. A duty of care has been found in cases when a patient has placed himself in the custody, care and treatment of a psychiatric hospital and its staff and the hospital did not take protective measures to prevent the patient from harming himself. This duty has been expressly limited to patients who have been admitted and confined to a hospital as well as the hospital’s ability to supervise, monitor and restrain the patient.
Generally speaking, Florida law also imposes a legal duty on a psychotherapist for failure to safeguard a patient from harming himself in a custodial setting. However, under Florida law, a psychotherapist owes no legal duty or obligation to prevent a suicide by a patient who is being treated in an outpatient setting and had showed no indication of suicidal tendencies. We believe this assumes that the patient has had both a complete physical and psychiatric evaluation before being discharged from an inpatient facility. For example, patients often have dual diagnosis such as depression and addiction that are unrecognized by doctors, nurses or social workers.
The Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal has ruled that in order to find a duty of care owed, suicidal tendencies must be specifically found in the claimant and cannot be based upon a generalized group who may be receiving some kind of drug, alcohol or mental health treatment. See, e.g. Timson v. Juvenile & Jail Facility Mgmt. Servs., Inc. , 355 Fed. Appx. 283, 2009 WL 4821265 (11th Cir. Dec. 1, 2009).
The goal of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is to understand and prevent suicide in provides a detailed list of risk factors for suicide. These include Substance Abuse (Drugs or Alcohol), depression, physical and sexual abuse.
Of the many public health problems in our country, suicide is often preventable. Specialists in suicide prevention are called, “suicide prevention practitioners,” such as clergy members, therapists, direct service workers, teachers, doctors, healers, addiction counselors and many others.
The American Association of Suicidology recommends an easy mnemonic to help identify risk factors for suicide called: “IS PATH WARM?”
S Substance Abuse
M Mood Changes
There are additional warning signs that should be considered such as expressing a desire to hurt oneself or writing or communicating suicidal thoughts or hopelessness.
Read the lawsuit our Miami medical malpractice law firm filed alleging medical malpractice against a South Florida hospital for negligently failing to prevent a foreseeable suicide here.
This particular case involves a nurse at a local hospital who committed suicide following a rapid alcohol withdrawal. The Defendants, South Miami Hospital, Dr. Carlos LaRocca, James Milerick and Baptist Health South of Florida all moved to dismiss the case with prejudice. On January 5, 2012 after a long and heated argument, Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge David Miller dismissed the entire case. To read the transcript of the hearing click here.
Our Florida suicide malpractice law firm filed a Motion For Rehearing which Judge Miller denied without a hearing. We have retained Appellate Lawyer Daniel Bushell to take this case to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal and hopefully to the Florida Supreme Court; as we are committed to this issue and believe that Florida’s doctors, hospitals and mental health professionals have a duty to protect patients from suicides even when the death occurs outside of a hospital.