The Court of Appeals of the State of Mississippi (“Mississippi Appellate Court”) confirmed in its opinion filed on May 29, 2018 that in a Mississippi civil suit for wrongful death involving suicide, the plaintiff must show that the defendant committed an intentional act that proximately caused an irresistible impulse in the decedent to commit suicide, which is an exception to the common law which prohibited recovery for wrongful death by suicide because suicide is an unforeseeable, intervening cause, which breaks the causal connection between the wrongful act and the death.
In a Mississippi medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the existence of a duty by the defendant to conform to a specific standard of conduct for the protection of others against an unreasonable risk of injury; (2) a failure to conform to the required standard; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach of such a duty by the defendant. In proving these elements, the plaintiff must show a causal connection between the breach and the injury, such that the breach is the proximate cause of the injury.
However, under Mississippi law, suicide constitutes an independent, intervening, and superseding event that severs the causal nexus between any wrongful action on the part of the defendant: a rebuttable presumption exists that a person will not destroy himself by suicide.
Under Mississippi law, recovery for a wrongful suicide death is permissible only when the defendant committed an intentional act that created an irresistible impulse in the decedent to take his or her own life. Where the suicide is committed in response to an uncontrollable impulse, recovery may be had if the mental state of the deceased was substantially caused by the defendant’s intentional wrongful acts. In recognizing this exception to the common-law rule barring recovery for suicide, Mississippi courts reason that intentional acts which cause an irresistible impulse to commit suicide should be compensable because a higher degree of responsibility is imposed upon a wrongdoer whose conduct was intended to cause harm than upon one whose conduct was negligent.
The Mississippi Appellate Court stated that while a claim for wrongful suicide death under the irresistible-impulse doctrine may be sustained based on a doctor’s actions, the claim cannot lie in medical negligence, with a possible exception for circumstances where the decedent was under the custody and control of a physician or facility, such as a mental institution (when the facility assumes a duty of care for a patient who is under its custody and control, and it is foreseeable that a breach of that duty could result in immediate suicide, liability exists for the facility’s negligent failure to prevent the act of self-harm – this exception includes the negligent discharge of a suicidal patient because negligently discharging a suicidal patient and leaving him to his own devices is not materially different from failing to provide a safe environment inside the facility).
Therefore, the claim must stem from an intentional tort. A claim alleging an intentional tort and a claim alleging negligence are mutually exclusive, in that, one who is found to have acted negligently cannot at the same time be found to have acted intentionally. The Mississippi Appellate Court held in the case it was deciding, because the suicide action must be based on an intentional tort, the plaintiff’s negligence claims do not state a cause of action for which relief can be granted and were correctly dismissed.
The Mississippi Appellate Court held, however, the plaintiff’s allegations in the amended complaint that the defendant psychiatrist acted knowingly, intentionally, actively, willfully, and deliberately sound in intentional tort, and do not state a claim for medical malpractice. The Mississippi Appellate Court held that because the plaintiff’s allegation that the intentional acts were committed “outside of the psychiatrist-patient relationship,” not arising out of the course of it, the intentional-act allegations do not fall within the medical-malpractice statute. Therefore, the Mississippi Appellate Court remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings on the plaintiff’s intentional-tort claims.
Source Irby v. Madakasira, No. 2015-CA-01759-COA.
If you lost a loved one due to suicide in Mississippi or in another U.S. state for which intentional acts or medical negligence may have caused or contributed to the death, you should find a medical malpractice lawyer in Mississippi or in your state who may investigate your suicide claim for you and represent you or your loved one’s family in a suicide malpractice case, if appropriate.
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