Patient suicide leads to a medical malpractice lawsuit

Pursuant to a 2008 case, the Supreme Court of Florida has recently been presented with a very unique question as to whether patient suicide cases amount to lack of duty to care on the part of a doctor and whether suicide cases fall under the ambit of medical malpractice.

 

The decedent, Jacqueline Granicz had been suffering from depression and had been on medication as per treatment by Dr. Chirillo in 2005, who later switched her to an antidepressant known as Effexor. Unknown to Dr. Chirillo, Jacqueline stopped taking the Effexor in June or July 2008 because of its side effects. On October 8, 2008, she called up Dr. Chirillo’s clinic and left him a message stating that she had been under excessive mental strain, was crying easily, faced difficulty in sleeping well so resorted to taking more sleeping pills and was also suffering from gastrointestinal problems. Furthermore, she stated that she felt these are side effects of Effexor and told the assistant that she had stopped taking it. Consequently, Dr. Chirillo had her antidepressant changed to Lexapro and decided to refer her to a gastroenterologist and booked an appointment for the same. Jacqueline was found hanging the next day. Her husband stated that there was no suicide note left by her and she had not even shown any signs of suicide recently.

 

He filed in this medical malpractice case against Dr. Chirillo alleging him to have failed to exercise his duty of reasonable care towards his patients, failing to schedule an appointment with Jacqueline when she called up his clinic to tell him about aggravated signs of mental strain and depression and having failed to conduct a proper evaluation before prescribing Lexapro, an anti-depressant known to cause suicidal ideas in some patients.

 

The trial court passed a summary judgment in favor of Dr. Chirillo stating that suicide is not foreseeable by a doctor and failure to save the patient from suicide does not amount to medical malpractice. Aggrieved by this decision, Granciz appealed to the Court of Appeals which granted the decision in Granciz’s favor, ruling, that it is a duty of a psychotherapist to provide psychotherapy when his patient is in need. See Chirillo v. Granicz 147 So. 3d 544 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014).

 

Aggrieved by the above decision, Dr. Chirillo preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court of Florida, and the court agreed to take up the review, scheduling an oral argument for September 2, 2015[1], where the judges were still caught up in the middle of deciding the issue whether suicide would be a point to claim for medical malpractice. In the course of arguments, the judges posed two questions as to – (1) whether a doctor owed any duty of care towards the patient in assessing his/her suicidal tendencies and possibilities; and (2) whether the understanding of mental health and suicide has advanced over time and whether it was appropriate to essentially carve suicide out from the medical malpractice statutes. The attorneys failed to convince and the questions still remain unresolved.[2]

 

 


[1] See “Oral Argument Press Summaries Week of August 31, 2015” at: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/current-summaries.pdf

 



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