Medical Malpractice: Doctors’ Duty Of Care In Patient Suicide
The Florida Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in a medical malpractice case involving a patient who committed suicide. Granicz v. Chirillo, LLC, 2D12-5244, the case at hand, was filed by Robert Granicz, the husband of Jacqueline Granicz, the deceased patient, as personal representative of her estate. The issues at hand focused on the duty of care owed to the patient by the treating physician, Doctor Joseph Chirillo.
Ms. Granicz, who had a medical history of depression, called Dr. Chirillo’s office in October 2008. At the time, she was being treated for depression by his office. She was taking Prozac in 2005 when she began treatment with Dr. Chirillo. He switched her prescription to Effexor, another antidepressant. She stated that she was under mental strain. The symptoms she reported were that she was crying easily and that she had not felt like herself in a few months. She also reported that she was not sleeping very well and had begun to take more sleeping pills. She stated that she was having gastrointestinal problems as well. She informed Dr. Chirillo’s assistant, with whom she spoke that day, that she stopped taking her prescribed Effexor because she believed it was causing all of the problems she mentioned on the phone. Dr. Chirillo read the note taken by the assistant and switched Ms. Granicz’s medication to Lexapro and referred her to a gastroenterologist. She picked up the prescription the same day. The next day, she was found by her husband after hanging herself. Her family did not have any idea that she was thinking of committing suicide.
Mr. Granicz alleges in his complaint that Dr. Chirillo had a duty to exercise reasonable care and that he breached this duty owed to Ms. Granicz in his treatment. The trial court ruled that the lawsuit could not proceed against the doctor, but the Second District Court of Appeal reversed this ruling in 2014 in favor of Mr. Granicz. Dr. Chirillo’s lawyer argued before the Supreme Court that Ms. Granicz’s death was not foreseeable, and thus, Dr. Chirillo did not breach his duty to protect his patient from reasonably foreseeable harm. However, Justice R. Fred Lewis noted that science in the areas of the human brain and psychiatrics has advanced in such a way that it is possible suicide could be foreseeable under certain circumstances.
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