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Florida's Highest Court Rules Doctor Liable for Patient Suicide

The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that a doctor could be held liable for medical negligence when a patient commits suicide. By a vote of 7-0, the state’s highest court found that it is up to a jury to decide whether Dr. Joseph Chirillo should be held liable in the death of Jacqueline Granicz.

As detailed in court documents, Jacqueline Granicz had a history of depression. She began seeing Dr. Chirillo in 2005, and in September of that year, Dr. Chirillo switched her medication from Prozac to another antidepressant known as Effexor. On October 8, 2008, Jacqueline called Dr. Chirillo’s office and told his medical assistant that she had stopped taking the Effexor because she thought it was causing her to experience some side effects, such as crying easily and suffering gastrointestinal problems. She also explained that she had not “felt right” since late June or July.

The medical assistant wrote this information in a note. Upon reading the note, Dr. Chirillo changed Jacqueline’s antidepressant to Lexapro and referred her to a gastroenterologist. Dr. Chirillo’s office called Jacqueline and told her that she could pick up samples and a prescription for Lexapro, but the office did not request that she schedule an appointment with Dr. Chirillo. She picked up the items later that day. The next day, Jacqueline’s husband, Robert Granicz, found his wife’s body hanging in their garage.

Robert Granicz later filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. The suit alleged that Dr. Chirillo breached his duty of care in treating his wife, which resulted in her suicide. In his defense, Dr. Chirillo argued that he had no duty to prevent the suicide.

The Florida Supreme Court held that, because Jacqueline was an outpatient, Dr. Chirillo had no duty to prevent her suicide under Florida law. However, it also held that Dr. Chirillo still had a duty to treat Jacqueline in accordance with the standard of care.

"We find that the Second District properly evaluated the instant case based on the statutory duty owed to [Granicz] … and also properly classified the foreseeability of the decedent's suicide as a matter of fact for the jury to decide in determining proximate cause," Justice Peggy Quince wrote for the court.

While the decision is not binding in California, the court’s reasoning will likely impact medical malpractice lawsuits involving suicide throughout the country. The decision also serves as a reminder that general practitioners have a duty of care to patients suffering psychological conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a medical error, you may be entitled to compensation, including pain and suffering damages and reimbursement of medical expenses. To discuss your legal rights, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.