Suicide claims about 1,600 lives each year in New York, with Onondaga County experiencing about 10% of those deaths. Each loss is a tragedy. A beloved family member is now gone, and survivors are left behind to wonder if they could have intervened in some way to help.
In some cases, a person could have legal liability for a loved one’s death. Powers & Santola, LLP, helps grieving families bring wrongful death cases. Family members can sometimes sue for compensation when a person owed their loved one a duty of care but failed to fulfill it. As a result, your spouse, child, or parent committed suicide, which was preventable. Under New York law, you might have the ability to sue this person or institution and seek financial compensation.
Contact our law firm today. A Syracuse wrongful death lawyer can provide more information in a confidential meeting.
Who Is Liable for a Suicide?
These are complicated legal claims to bring because your loved one killed themselves. The typical personal injury case seeks to compensate victims for someone else’s actions. But with suicide, your loved one chose to end their life.
In some situations, however, a person does owe your loved one a duty of care. And when they breach that duty, they contribute to the suicide. For this reason, you can sometimes blame a person or institution as contributing to the suicide, which makes them legally liable.
Doctors, schools, and jails are some of the people or institutions that have a special relationship which sometimes establishes liability.
Doctors and Other Medical Providers
Doctors must provide competent care to their patients. If your loved one had a mental health crisis, then a doctor must respond appropriately. This might mean restraining your loved one, prescribing the right medication, watching them, or referring them for specialist treatment. Doctors should also avoid discharging patients too soon.
Surviving family members might have a wrongful death claim against a doctor for:
- Failing to assess a patient before prescribing antidepressants or other drugs.
- Refusing to prescribe a psychiatric drug when it is reasonable to conclude that it would help a suicidal patient.
- Prescribing the wrong psychiatric drugs, which increases the risk of suicide.
- Failing to monitor a patient for adverse reactions to psychiatric drugs.
- Failing to refer a suicidal patient to a psychiatrist or mental health facility.
The key question is how a reasonably prudent doctor would have acted in a similar situation—in particular, based on what the doctor knew or could reasonably have known about the patient.
Private schools owe a duty of care to their students. This duty often requires that they respond appropriately to bullying and other forms of harassment, even when committed off school property. Schools should also investigate any plausible allegation that a teacher or other staff member harassed or assaulted a student. If school officials put their heads in the sand, then they might be liable.
Liability for a public school is more complicated, given the fact that school districts are immune from many types of lawsuits. Nonetheless, a school might have liability given what they knew about bullying and other abuse.
Jails or Prisons
According to Pacific Standard, suicide is the leading cause of death in prisons. In fact, the suicide rate in prison is about 4 times higher than for the general population.
Prisoners are entitled to adequate medical care, even if they are being held behind bars for committing a crime or while awaiting trial. Medical professionals cannot ignore obvious signs of physical or psychiatric distress. If they are deliberately indifferent, then they are liable under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
For example, a doctor or guard could know that a prisoner was suicidal, and there are established protocols for helping the prisoner. Nonetheless, the prison or jail refuses to follow the protocols, and a suicide results. This is the type of deliberate indifference which is unconstitutional and could form the basis of a lawsuit.
Establishing a Causal Link
To be successful in a wrongful death claim, we need to connect your loved one’s suicide to the substandard treatment they received at the hands of a prison, school, hospital, doctor, or other defendant. That is more complicated than many people imagine.
You might think it’s “obvious” that a doctor is to blame for failing to stop your loved one from committing suicide. However, we need to answer some questions:
- Was the defendant aware of the suicide risk? A doctor might only know that your loved one was agitated or couldn’t sleep based on a patient phone call. Those symptoms correspond to many medical conditions, not simply suicide. Even knowing a patient is depressed doesn’t necessarily mean they know suicide is likely. You have a much stronger case if your loved one was institutionalized, where constant surveillance is possible, or where the doctor admits to being aware your loved one was suicidal.
- How long did the defendant know of the risk? The more time that passes, the stronger your claim that the defendant’s failure to act contributed to the death.
- Has medication been linked to an increased risk of suicide? Your wife might have taken medication for anxiety. Over the next few months, her symptoms increased in severity, and she began to hallucinate and harm herself. To an outsider, it might be “common sense” that the medication led to her suicide. But we ideally will need studies showing a connection across a large sample size. Your wife could have had an underlying
Proving causation is often challenging. The defendant can always claim they had no control of your loved one and did everything expected of them.
Compassionate Wrongful Death Attorney in Syracuse
Our wrongful death attorneys will work with expert witnesses to establish all elements of a wrongful death case. Please call our law firm at your earliest convenience to discuss your rights. No amount of compensation is a substitute for the loss of a dear relative. Still, a lawsuit can hold negligent professionals accountable and help cushion the financial stress a family feels.