A New York trial judge has stricken the almost $10 million medical malpractice verdict against a prominent primary care physician that a jury had determined breached the standard of care in his treatment of his patient, which led to the patient’s suicide during the night of June 6 to June 7, 2012.
The judge ruled that the causal connection between the defendant doctor’s care of the patient and the patient’s suicide was “too attenuated” to establish that the doctor should be held liable for the patient’s suicide: “Plaintiff’s sole medical expert, neurologist Lawrence Shields, did not supply such a basis. There was nothing in Dr. Shields’ testimony that properly linked any departure (from standard and accepted medical practice) to the suicide when it occurred. The opinion of plaintiff’s expert on causation was too conclusory to create an issue of fact for the jury.”
In the days before his suicide, the patient complained to the defendant, who had been his primary care physician for a number of years, that his symptoms of depression, excessive worry, fatigue, panic attacks, weight loss, and problems with concentration were getting worse. The defendant primary care physician had prescribed anti-depression, anti-anxiety, and sleep medications for the patient but negligently failed to recognize and evaluate the patient’s progressively depressive and destructive state and failed to adequately assess the patient for suicidal ideation, according to the family’s New York medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit.
The family alleged that the patient was extremely agitated and disturbed during the June 6, 2012 office visit with the defendant and that the patient’s condition deteriorated so quickly over the course of a week that the defendant was required by the standard of care to immediately send the patient to a psychiatrist or a hospital ER. The patient reportedly told the defendant that he was OK during the June 6th visit in response to the defendant’s inquiry if he intended to hurt himself. The defendant prescribed anti-depressant medication at that time that would take a few weeks to become fully effective. The defendant provided the patient with the name and telephone number of a psychologist he should contact for an appointment (the plaintiff argued that the patient should have been immediately referred to a psychiatrist).
After the trial judge entered a directed verdict in favor of the defendant primary care physician, the plaintiff’s New York medical malpractice lawyer stated, “The family is disappointed. We believe the jury’s verdict is correct and should be respected. The standard for setting aside a jury’s verdict is very high, and we do not believe that Judge Marin met that standard in disregarding the jury’s factual findings. The judge’s ruling is based on his interpretation of the evidence regarding whether the malpractice of Dr. Strange ‘caused’ the suicide. The jury said that it would have, and the suicide would have been prevented that day if Dr. Strange took action.” The plaintiff’s lawyer continued: “Notably, the judge does not find that there was no malpractice. He left those findings alone. He simply overruled the jury’s finding that the malpractice caused the suicide. We believe the decision to ignore the jury’s findings on the causation effect of the malpractice is wrong.”
If you lost a loved one due to suicide in New York or in another U.S. state for which mental health negligence may have caused or contributed to the death, you should find a medical malpractice lawyer in New York or in your state who may investigate your suicide claim for you and represent you or your loved one’s family in a suicide malpractice case, if appropriate.
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