No Hospital Liability in Texas Suicide Case

In Providence Health Center v. Dowell, the Texas Supreme Court found against the Plaintiffs who sought to recover in a medical malpractice case for their son’s suicide.

The Texas high court, in an opinion by written by Justice Hecht, based its ruling on several factors, most notably appears to be the fact that there was no expert testimony to a reasonable degree of medical probability that had the young man been hospitalized, that his death could have been prevented. When asked if hospitalization would have prevented the suicide, the expert only answered that the young man “would have improved” and been at a “lower risk” of suicide when he left the hospital.

The majority opinion also ruled that there was no evidence that the young man would have consented to hospitalization. A dissenting opinion by supported by three justices took exception to the notion that plaintiffs should be required to prove that the patient would have consented to provide a new and insurmountable hurdle in suicide cases.

I have not read the dissent because it is not available; I gleaned the dissent’s view from the majority opinion. I agree with the dissent that it is ridiculous that a plaintiff would be required to prove that their decedent would have consented to hospitalization. But I’m not sure how the dissent gets around the failure of the expert to provide a definitive “more probably than not’ answer to the question of whether hospitalization would have made a difference.

In another life, I defended an antidepressant manufacturer in litigation involving suicides while on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Suicide is just an awful tragedy, and the reasons for it are often incredibly complex. Not speaking to the merits of this case, but hospitals and doctors do have an obligation sometimes to protect people from themselves. I hope cases like this don’t send the wrong message to health care providers in Texas.

Of course, doctors and hospitals are already getting the wrong message as any Texas medical malpractice lawyer will tell you. Absurdly low damage caps have gutted Texas malpractice cases, living many victims without any compensation or, quite often, even a lawyer who will take their malpractice case.

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