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Patient Suicide Leads to $10 Million Malpractice Verdict

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A Staten Island jury recently handed down their verdict in a malpractice case dealing with an unusual question:  Can a doctor be held liable for a patient’s suicide if the doctor fails to properly diagnose and treat depression and anxiety?  Continue reading for details about the suicide lawsuit, and contact a skilled Hudson Valley medical malpractice lawyer with any questions or if you suspect you have been harmed by a doctor’s error.

Doctor fails to diagnose depression and anxiety in patient

The case involved a 48-year-old Prince’s Bay resident.  In May of 2012, the man went to see his family doctor to manage his high cholesterol.  The doctor had been his family’s primary care physician for several years leading up to the incident.  During the visit and a subsequent visit on May 30, the man complained to his doctor of increasingly bad symptoms of panic attacks, depression, fatigue, worry, concentration problems, and weight loss.  The doctor prescribed Xanax and Ambien, respectively anti-anxiety and sleep medicines, although the medical records fail to state the reasons why.  The patient continued to become more and more anxious despite the medicine, in part because he had recently lost his job and was concerned about supporting his family. 

The family went to see the doctor together on June 6, during which meeting the patient noted an inability to sleep, regular panic attacks, and that he had lost six pounds in a week.  The doctor diagnosed him with “depression with anxiety” and prescribed an antidepressant, and gave the patient the contact information for a psychologist.  The next day, the man killed himself.

Family sues for malpractice, jury deals out $10 million verdict

The family of the deceased brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor for failing to catch the man’s deteriorating mental state.  They claimed that he was so agitated and disturbed during his last couple of office visits (just days before his suicide) that the doctor should have immediately sent him to a psychiatrist or a hospital.  As alleged by the family of the man, the doctor failed to fully realize, diagnose, and treat the full severity of his “self-destructive state,” failing in particular to address his “suicidal thoughts and ideation” and his alarmingly worsening state over the last week leading up to his suicide.  The family claimed the doctor should have probed more, going beyond merely asking if the man planned to hurt himself.  If he had been diagnosed with a more severe depressive disorder, his suicide could have been prevented, according to the family.

The doctor, in turn, claimed that the patient denied having any self-harm or suicidal thoughts and that he had no reason to suspect the patient was near to killing himself.  He prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication, and should not be held responsible if the patient failed to take the medication as prescribed.  At trial, the jury ultimately agreed with the plaintiff family, awarding them a total of $9.97 million.  The award consists of $5 million for loss of parental care on behalf of the man’s daughter and son, $2.5 million for pain and suffering, as well as $2.47 million for lost earnings and benefits.  The doctor plans to appeal the verdict.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice in New York’s Hudson Valley, seek experienced legal help to evaluate your potential claims by contacting the seasoned and passionate Bloomingburg and Poughkeepsie medical malpractice lawyers at Ingber & Provost for a free consultation at 845-733-2720.

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