If you are struggling with negative feelings or suicidal thoughts, resources are available to help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Suicide is typically considered a personal choice, and as such, is generally not considered grounds for a wrongful death claim. However, if you can prove that the defendant’s actions or inaction played a role in your loved one’s decision to take their own life, you may be able to file a claim.
It’s important to speak with an experienced attorney if you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim for suicide.
A Florida wrongful death attorney at Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath can help you determine if you have a valid claim and guide you through the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Please call (561) 655-1990 today.
Situations Where Someone Can Be Held Liable for Someone Else’s Suicide
Liability is feasible if your attorney can prove that the deceased would not have died by suicide had the defendant (potential at-fault party) not been involved. This is a difficult situation to prove, but it’s not impossible.
If the defendant played a role in convincing the victim to take their own life, or if they supplied the victim with the means to commit suicide, they may be held liable.
For example, if the defendant knew the victim had been struggling with thoughts of suicide and texted the victim telling them to end their own life, they could be held liable. It’s important to note that even “joking” texts about suicidality can be used as incriminating evidence in a suicide wrongful death case.
Inaction Counts, Too
Additionally, if the defendant was aware of the victim’s mental health condition and failed to take steps to protect them from harming themselves, they may be held liable. This is because the defendant should have been able to reasonably determine that their actions, or inactions, could have influenced the deceased individual’s decision to die by suicide.
For example: A student goes to see their school counselor. They tell the counselor that they’ve been hurting themselves and have had recurring thoughts of suicide. They tell the counselor that they’re worried they might do something to really hurt themselves. The student leaves the counselor’s office, but instead of notifying the appropriate superior or asking a superior what they should do to intervene, the counselor does nothing, brushing off the student’s comments as teenage angst.
Because the counselor had professional oversight of the student, they had a responsibility to take reasonable steps given the information that the student disclosed. The counselor failed to meet that responsibility, and if the student ended up committing suicide, the counselor could be held liable.
The Role of Negligence
Once you’ve established that the defendant’s actions either played a substantial role in the deceased’s death or reasonably could have led to their death, then you need to prove negligence.
Negligence is required in civil liability cases for the courts to award damages. However, negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit for suicide is different than for a car accident.
Not only does the defendant need to have owed the deceased a duty of care, but they must have been either an authority figure with a special relationship with the deceased, such as a parent, friend, doctor, medical professional, or teacher.
Also, they must have been notified by the deceased that the individual was considering suicide or had shown outward signs of suicidal thoughts or intentions.
In other words, the defendant must have had knowledge of the particular victim’s state of mind and been in a position to influence or stop their suicide.
In 2021, the gaming company Activision Blizzard was sued for wrongful death over the suicide of a female employee. The company has a history of sexual harassment toward female employees.
The family of the deceased female employee believes that she was subject to this same harassment and her death in 2017 was caused by the company’s hostile environment.
The case continues to unfold, but they have been found guilty of sexual harassment and were fined $18 million by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
School Liability for Student Suicide
Schools are meant to be a safe place for students. With teachers and counselors available, it’s one of the places where parents expect their students to be well cared for.
But what happens when those authority figures do not intervene appropriately when a student expresses thoughts of suicide?
There have been numerous cases across the US of schools not taking the necessary precautions to keep students safe. In 2019 in Ohio, an 8th-grade student died by suicide after threatening the act earlier.
His counselor initially reported this to his father, who took him to a doctor, but failed to continue with their duty of care when they found out that the student had later sent text messages to their friends threatening suicide.
Similarly, in 2018 in Pennsylvania, a high school student died by suicide after getting poor grades. The school never acted to help the student bring up their grades and, even after the parents tried to implement a communication plan with the school, they did not take additional steps.
The student confessed their suicidal feelings to their therapist, who reported it to the parents and the school. When the student ultimately committed suicide due to their failing grades at the end of the year, the parents sought damages from the school.
Not every claim will be brought to trial, as schools try to get out of their responsibility through a variety of legal means. However, you have a right to hold the school responsible if your child died by suicide due to their negligence.
A school can be found negligent if they created a special danger of suicide, knew of the danger and did nothing to stop it or report it, acted recklessly in their handling of the situation, or deliberately ignored warning signs. To succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit against a school district, you must show that the school had a duty of care to your child, that they breached that duty, and that their breach caused your child’s death.
Speak With a Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you may be feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn. The attorneys at Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath are here to help. We have experience helping families seek justice in wrongful death lawsuits and we know the importance of holding those responsible for a loved one’s death accountable.
Call (561) 655-1990 today for a free consultation. We will review your case and can help you file a wrongful death lawsuit against the individual or organization responsible.