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Who Can Be Held Liable When Someone Commits Suicide?
This spring, Netflix debuted a controversial series called “13 Reasons Why.” It’s set in the aftermath of a teen girl’s suicide and offers the viewers reasons for why she ended her own life. While teens and some critics loved it, others thought it glorified suicide and might even be dangerous for teenagers to watch. Each episode is a tape, in which the protagonist, Hannah, offers another reason (usually a person) for why she killed herself.
The series, though controversial, offers an interesting question: can people be legally responsible for someone else’s suicide? In this case, does Hannah’s family have legal grounds for a wrongful death suit? The answer may surprise you.
Liability and Suicide
People who commit suicide are, by definition, responsible for their own deaths. But this doesn’t mean other people can’t play a role. Proving liability in a suicide case isn’t always easy, but it is possible. When looking at suicide as a wrongful death case, the courts consider a few questions:
- Did a person commit suicide as the result of a defendant’s action or inaction?
- Did someone know, or should have known, that the deceased was suicidal?
- Are there other factors that could have played a role in the suicide?
- How much time has passed since the wrongful death action?
Unlike other areas of law, there is no specific formula to determine fault in a suicide case. A knowledgeable legal advocate is one of the most important aspects of successfully litigating suicide as a wrongful death case. Your Kansas City wrongful death attorney will have to provide sufficient evidence that a person’s actions (or lack thereof) played a direct role in a loved one’s suicide.
Other Legal Considerations
In some cases, suicide can be a matter of medical malpractice. For example, some anti-depressant medications can cause suicidal thoughts in certain patients. If a physician fails to properly monitor a patient, and this person commits suicide, the physician may be guilty of negligence.
Another example would be a suicide that occurs in a mental health facility. When you take a loved one to receive inpatient care for mental health issues, you have the reasonable expectation that he or she will be monitored and cared for. If your loved one commits suicide under their watch, you may have grounds for a wrongful death suit.
Examples of Suicide Liability
While proving civil liability in a suicide case can be difficult, it’s not without precedent. Here are some recent examples in which families have found justice for a loved one’s suicide:
- Two teenagers in Massachusetts had a complicated relationship. During a fight, Michelle Carter’s boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, threatened to commit suicide. Carter reportedly encouraged him to carry out the act. The prosecution charged her with involuntary manslaughter, and the courts found her guilty. She faces 20 years in prison.
- Parents of a 14-year-old in San Diego sought $1 million in damages from a school district because they felt they shared the blame for his suicide. Matthew Burdette took his own life after an embarrassing video made the rounds at his school. The school reportedly knew about the incident, but it didn’t take the proper steps to control the bullying that followed.
Nothing can bring back a loved one, but when your loved one’s suicide is the natural consequence of someone’s action or inaction, you may be able to collect compensation. A wrongful death settlement can help pay for final expenses, as well as provide punishment for the parties responsible.
Many suicides can and should be prevented. If you feel your loved one’s death was the direct result of negligence, talk to a compassionate Kansas City injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death claims about civil liability and suicide.