America’s suicide rate has steadily climbed over the past 20 years. According to the CDC, suicide is the country’s 10th-leading cause of death, and, on average, 132 people take their own lives every day.  More than five times as many people died by suicide in New York last year than car accidents involving drunk drivers. However, what happens when you believe that another person’s negligent conduct caused your loved one to take their life? Does this provide grounds for filing a wrongful death lawsuit?

Suing for wrongful death after a suicide

The answer depends on circumstances leading up to the death, and whether the defendant owed a special duty of care toward the decedent.  If the decedent was in the care of a health care professional such as a psychiatrist, therapist, or doctor at the time they killed themselves, this might warrant a more in-depth investigation.

Similarly, if the victim was taking a prescription medication that caused them to succumb to suicidal ideation, the pharmaceutical manufacturer may be held liable. If they knew about this type of adverse side effect, but failed to provide sufficient warnings, they could be held responsible. Pfizer’s controversial, anti-smoking drug Chantix illustrates this liability well. According to allegations, the drug maker knew that Chantix could cause suicidal thoughts but did not caution the public of this risk. Pfizer ultimately settled numerous lawsuits filed by the families of patients who killed themselves after taking the drug.

Educational and health institutions that are legally responsible for the well-being of the individuals within their care may also face liability for suicide and wrongful death when their action or inaction causes people to self-harm. There have been a number of wrongful death lawsuits filed against schools– where students, tormented by incessant bullying, have taken their own lives. Parents claim that school administrators all but ignored constant pleas for help, and their negligent disregard created a dangerous environment for children.

Wrongful death claims have also been filed against hospitals following the suicide of psychiatric patients. In cases like these, the plaintiffs argue that the institutions lack suicide prevention training and adequate policy for monitoring patients who expressed these tendencies.

Establishing liability in suicide-related wrongful death cases

Losing a loved one to suicide is heartbreaking and confusing. When another entity’s actions are partly to blame, you need sufficient evidence to bring a valid claim for damages.

The courts will look at many factors when determining liability and whether a duty of care was breached. They will also examine whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the decedent would take their lives as a result of the defendant’s conduct or their inaction.

To file a wrongful death action, plaintiffs must establish that the defendant:

  • owed a duty of care to the decedent
  • violated that duty of care
  • acted negligently thus contributing to the suicide

Statute of limitations for wrongful death claims

The period in which family members and eligible dependents can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit is known as a statute of limitations. In both New Jersey and New York State, a plaintiff has two years from the date of death to initiate legal proceedings in civil court.

If a wrongful death claim is filed outside of these two years, it will most likely be banned from court.  For this reason, it’s vital to seek legal counsel from a wrongful death lawyer if you suspect that your loved one’s suicide was caused or triggered by the intentional or negligent acts of another.

Discuss your case with Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman

Suicide is a delicate topic for family and loved ones to discuss, but there is legal recourse if negligence caused someone to take their own life. We help families in Bergen and Rockland County in New Jersey, as well as New York. We can evaluate whether they have a valid wrongful death claim after a family member’s suicide.

Recovering a settlement for a loved one’s premature death will not erase the pain, but it can help mitigate some of the financial hardships and offer a measure of closure. Call us today to schedule a free consultation with a compassionate wrongful death attorney.