Suicide Victim’s Husband Can Sue Her Doctor, Florida Supreme Court Rules
In a recent ruling, the Florida Supreme Court found that the husband of a Sarasota County woman who died by suicide nearly eight years ago can pursue a lawsuit against her physician.
Jacqueline Granicz was 55 years old when she died in October 2008. She had a history of depression. Her husband, Robert Granicz, took legal action against her primary care physician, Joseph Chirillo, arguing that the doctor’s failure to meet his duty of care resulted in her death by suicide.
They day before her death, Jacqueline called her doctor’s office to report that she was under mental strain, crying easily and having gastrointestinal problems. She did not speak directly with her doctor. Dr. Chirillo changed her antidepressant medication and referred her to a gastroenterologist when he learned about the call from an assistant, but he neither called her nor scheduled an appointment to meet with her.
This primary care physician failed his patient; he had to know he failed as soon as he heard of the suicide.
Jacqueline’s case highlights a major hazard to people who are already at risk of suicide: mental health malpractice. When a doctor-patient relationship exists between a person struggling with mental illness and a physician, the physician has a duty to provide competent care that would be reasonably expected of a doctor in similar circumstances. Doctors and clinicians have long known what is expected of them in protecting suicidal patients, yet they fly in the face of danger by not doing what they should do. Only juries can correct this situation.
Some common types of mental health malpractice include:
- Improper diagnosis.
- Failure to conduct a proper risk assessment. If a physician or other mental health professional has reason to believe a patient may be at risk of self-harm or suicide, he or she has a duty to properly assess the risk of suicide. This assessment includes asking screening questions, eliciting information about suicidal thoughts, plans and behaviors, and establishing a rapport with the patient.
- Failure to properly protect patients at high risk for suicide.
Medical providers and mental health professionals have a duty to appropriately and competently treat their patients, especially patients who are at risk of suicide. When that duty of care is breached and a patient dies by suicide, the victim’s family has the right to seek justice and hold those providers accountable.