Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

General Rule

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

General Rule

Article excerpt

The general rule is that a health care provider has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent a patient from committing suicide. Plaintiffs must establish a deviation from the standard of care through expert testimony, which includes proof that the defendant's negligence caused the suicide or contributed to a failure to prevent its occurrence. The reasonableness of the conduct of the health care professional, not the actual suicide, is the focus of the claim.

Although the majority of the cases discussed here address the common law duty of hospitals and health care providers to protect patients from reasonably foreseeable harm, readers should not neglect the issue of statutory or regulatory duties of care that may obviate any contributory negligence defenses. 1. See, e.g., Lomayestewa v. Our Lady of Mercy Hospitals, 589 S.W.2d 885 (Ky. 1979).

We review decisions involving patients with diagnosed mental illness, as well as cases in which patients were not receiving treatment for mental or emotional disturbance at the time of their suicide attempts. While it is significant that these opinions recognize the existence of the legal duty to foresee the possibility of a suicide and render treatment intended to prevent it, there is scant discussion of the medical or psychiatric interventions required by the standard of care. …

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