The Supreme Court of Mississippi (“the Court”) issued an opinion on November 6, 2014 in a medical malpractice claim arising out of a patient’s suicide, holding that Mississippi law requires intentional conduct that proximately created an “irresistible impulse” in a patient to commit suicide in order for there to be a recovery for medical negligence. Since there was no evidence that the patient who committed suicide ever sought psychiatric treatment from the medical malpractice defendants, the plaintiff’s allegation that the defendants committed an intentional act by not providing a psychological consult did not meet the requirements of the irresistible-impulse exception.
The Mississippi law regarding suicide stems from a 1968 case in which the Court stated that there was a rebuttable presumption that a person will not destroy himself by suicide, citing the common-law rule that suicide is an “unforeseeable, intervening cause . . . which breaks the causal connection between the wrongful act and the death.” However, the Court recognized an exception to the common-law rule by allowing recovery against a defendant resulting from a suicide only if the suicide was proximately caused by the intentional act of the defendant that created an irresistible impulse in the decedent to take his or her own life. The Court held that if the decedent took his own life through an uncontrollable impulse and without conscious volition to cause death, and the mental condition was caused by the injury, the death was compensable.
The Underlying Facts
The decedent was admitted to the hospital on June 9, 2008, complaining of chest pains. He was examined and after testing, was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer, gastritis, esophagitis, questionable pericarditis, and normal coronary arteries following a heart catheterization. Three days later, during the night before he was to be discharged from the hospital, the decedent became agitated and aggressive, removing an IV from his arm and attempting to leave the hospital, but he was stopped by nurses and forced back to his room. A nurse reported that the decedent had a hallucination during the incident, stating that someone was trying to rape him.
The decedent and his mother requested that the decedent remain in the hospital and not be discharged, stating that medication that the decedent was given made him “crazy” the night before. One of the drugs that the decedent had been prescribed was Reglan, which comes with a warning for the risk of suicide. However, the decedent and his mother did not voice concern that the decedent may hurt himself or may commit suicide.
During the decedent’s return visit to the doctor for treatment of his ulcer four days later, the doctor was allegedly informed about the incident the night before discharge from the hospital. The doctor wrote a prescription for Reglan and asked the decedent to return in three or four weeks. The following day, the decedent told a friend that he was tired of living and later that same day, told his cousin that he needed a gun and that he wanted to see his deceased cousin. The decedent obtained a gun and called his girlfriend the next day to ask that she take care of his sister and mother if anything happened to him. He then texted his friends to tell them that he was resting in peace. He barricaded himself in his bedroom and committed suicide later that day.
The decedent’s mother subsequently filed a Mississippi medical malpractice case against the hospital and doctor, alleging claims for medical negligence, vicarious liability, breach of warranty, wrongful death, torturous breach of contract, gross negligence, and punitive damages. The trial court granted the medical malpractice defendants’ motion for summary judgment that argued that under Mississippi law, a suicide is actionable only when a defendant’s intentional wrongful act proximately caused an irresistible impulse resulting in the suicide, and that the plaintiff never pleaded any intentional wrongful act committed by the defendants that caused the decedent to commit suicide.
The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, noting that the decedent never expressed to the defendants a desire to harm himself and was not under the control of the defendants when he committed suicide.
Source Dianne Truddle, as Mother and Wrongful Death Beneficiary of Eric Carmichael, Deceased v. Baptist Memorial Hospital – Desoto, Inc. and Sunil Malhotra, M.D., No. 2013-CA-00707-SCT.
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