Hospital liability for suicide?
October 8, 2006 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Is the hospital liable?

A woman named "Sue" is suicidally depressed. So depressed, in fact, that her therapist has her involuntarily committed. Sue is taken to local community hospital. While in the psych ward of the hospital, on suicide watch, Sue hangs herself. She is not found for 10 minutes; at this time she is still alive but has suffered severe brain and organ damage. Sue remains in the ICU for a couple days, brain dead and on a ventilator, and then dies.

Was the hospital negligent? Are they liable for Sue's death?
posted by betterton to Law & Government (5 answers total)
From the information you've posted it's impossible to say.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:13 PM on October 8, 2006

Where's the hospital (what's the jurisdiction)? Do community hospitals typically have dedicated psych wards? If she is on "suicide watch" why wasn't she "found" for 10 minutes? What did she hang herself with? Did Sue have other organic conditions, that could have contributed to her death? What did the autopsy reveal as cause of death?

This is why courts of law present such questions to triers of fact. The devil, and the liability, is so often in the details.
posted by paulsc at 3:15 PM on October 8, 2006

Would not this depend on the details of how she committed suicide? If she had shoelaces or a belt or something else obvious on her person then I could see making a case for the hospital's negligence. On the other hand, many people have killed themselves in damn creative ways even when the objects at their disposal have been severely limited, and in such cases I don't think you can find the hospital at fault as long as they took reasonable precautions.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2006

Agreed that it is impossible to determine from the information provided.

The argument is negligence, so you have to jump through several legal hoops to get there -- e.g. that the hospital knew there was a high likelihood of this happening, that they were responsible for her safety, they knew there was an imminent danger, they failed to take required cautions (e.g. giving her access to rope-making material when protocol says not to, not checking on her within prescribed, pre-determined intervals), and otherwise failing at their legally prescribed duty.

Moreover, "involuntarily committed" can mean different things in different contexts in different states. And some states don't even have such laws, or else large groups of the homeless could be legally swept off the street.
posted by frogan at 4:11 PM on October 8, 2006

This may be of interest to you: Suicide Watch: Liability for Negligent Psychiatric Care
posted by fourstar at 4:52 PM on October 8, 2006

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