It is a concept not usually considered in typical suicide cases–whether a doctor’s error or malpractice played a role in the deceased’s actions. New Jersey families who have suffered the loss of a loved one by his or her own hand face a particularly rough road to healing. Often, they look for someone to blame for the tragedy that has taken over their lives. In most cases, this search remains fruitless, but a recent report illustrates how it might be possible for a doctor’s action or inaction to contribute to suicide.

In 2008, a female patient called her doctor’s office to report she was suffering from mental strain, was crying easily and experiencing additional problems. Reportedly, the woman’s doctor responded by changing her medication and issuing her a referral for a gastroenterologist. According to the story, the woman hanged herself and was found dead the next day.

In response, the woman’s husband filed a malpractice lawsuit against his wife’s doctor. Initially, a circuit judge ruled in favor of the doctor but last year a court of appeals overturned the ruling and decided that the medical malpractice case could move forward. Now, the case is in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court although a final ruling could take months to arrive.

While suicide is not typically an area in which a doctor error plays a part, the basis of the lawsuit revolves around a physician’s “duty of care.” In this case, the court will address issues such as whether or not the woman’s doctor failed to fulfill his duty of care when providing treatment.

What this might mean for Bergen County families who have suffered the suicide of a loved one is closure and justice. When doctor errors or blatant negligence are suspected, it could lead to successful legal action on behalf of the surviving family members.

Source: CBS Miami, “Supreme Court Ponders Medical Malpractice In Patient Suicide,” Sep. 02, 2015