Wrongful Death Claims and Suicide: Assessing Liability and Negligence

by Staff Blogger | September 29th, 2023

Many questions will remain unanswered when a loved one makes the tragic decision to take their own life. For those who survive the loss of a loved one, confusion may turn to unbearable rage when someone else’s negligence contributed to that decision. Sometimes, in cases where families suspect someone other than the victim was responsible for the suicide, they can file a wrongful death claim against that suspect.

To succeed in bringing forward a claim for wrongful death, California residents must show that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care. They must also have breached this duty to make it a proximate cause of the suicide. If you believe your loved one’s suicide resulted from someone else’s negligence, you can file a wrongful death claim.

Defending these claims requires a deep understanding of negligence, liability, and the interplay between these legal principles. You need a California wrongful death attorney who understands both very well.

How Wrongful Death Claims Can Arise in Cases of Suicide

Orcutt v. Spokane County, a landmark Washington State decision, clarified negligence factors in suicide cases. “Uncontrollable impulse” was at the core of the Orcutt decision.

The plaintiff can prove liability if the defendant’s negligence caused the uncontrollable impulse that led to the suicide. A connection must be made between the defendant’s actions and the uncontrollable urge that led to suicide.

As far as suicide-wrongful death cases are concerned, the Orcutt case marks a shift from the norm. Suicide-related wrongful death claims have traditionally been denied because they are not considered natural consequences of the defendant’s actions.

However, several legal precedents recognize exceptions to the rule, especially when the defendant’s conduct led to the decedent’s mental state.

Establishing a Connection Between Negligence and Suicide

It is challenging to unravel the circumstances that lead to suicide. However, many families will want to hold someone accountable and find some sense of justice. A California wrongful death claim can help in these situations. There are many ways negligence can lead to suicide. Some examples include:

  • Inadequate mental health treatment.
  • Leaving a suicidal child unsupervised.
  • Leaving a firearm in the home of a suicidal individual.
  • Failure to prevent bullying situations that cause emotional distress to the deceased.

Expert testimony is crucial to proving a causal link between negligence and suicide. For example, a psychiatrist or forensic scientist can shed light on possible negligence or liability by analyzing the events leading to suicide.

Moreover, courts have considered several factors when assessing liability in suicide-wrongful death cases, including:

1. Evidence linking the defendant’s behavior to an uncontrollable suicide impulse.

2. If the decedent committed suicide with any volition or understanding.

3. Whether the defendant showed any negligence or malice.

4. The defendant’s actions relating to the method of suicide.

5. Legal standards, trends, and similar cases.

Wrongful Death Claims: California’s Legal Framework

The California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60-377.62 sets forth the legal framework for wrongful death claims. Family members, such as spouses, children, and dependents, may be entitled to compensation in certain circumstances.

California imposes a comparative negligence standard. Therefore, compensation can still be awarded based on the fault each party bears, regardless of what actions the deceased person took.

Using this approach ensures a fair distribution of liability between multiple parties. To prove wrongful death in California, in the context of suicide, you must show:

  • A duty of care must be established by showing that the responsible party had a legal obligation towards the decedent. Healthcare professionals have a responsibility to provide their patients with adequate medical treatment. Institutions must keep patients safe while they are in their care.
  • A breach of duty occurs when there is a failure to meet required standards. An example would be a mental health professional who did not follow recognized treatment protocols.
  • The breach directly led to the suicide. Causation is difficult to prove, but proving it is crucial. A direct link must be established between the breach of duty and the suicide. Expert testimony is often required to show a causal connection between responsible parties’ actions or omissions and the resulting consequences.
  • Damages must be quantifiable. Many things can be considered damages in these types of cases, including medical expenses, funeral costs, and the emotional distress that surviving family members suffer.

Let a California Wrongful Death Attorney Help You

Legal claims related to suicide often involve negligence, liability, and unusual circumstances that trigger painful emotions from both parties. Facts must be examined in detail to determine if negligence led to a suicide. These facts must often be supported by testimony from experts.

The attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers have extensive experience with assessing such cases, gathering evidence, working with experts, and navigating the complex legal system. Remember that while the legal landscape can seem daunting, you do not have to go through it alone.

If you have lost a loved one due to wrongful death, contact a dedicated California wrongful death attorney who can help you get justice for your loss.