Wrongful Death

Can you file a wrongful death suit if a loved one dies by suicide?

By April 27, 2021No Comments

Warning: This article contains specific discussion of death and suicide that may be upsetting to some readers.

In the era of COVID-19, many Americans have reported a deterioration in their mental health. Isolated from our loved ones, faced with precarious employment opportunities and the danger of contracting the virus, many of us are dealing with anxiety, loneliness, and even depression.

As a result, it’s more important than ever that we do everything we can to prevent suicides. But what happens when prevention efforts fail? If your family member or loved one has taken their own life, you may be seeking some course of action that will provide justice for their situation and prevent others from suffering the same fate.

In Washington, it may be possible to file a wrongful death claim if you believe there is someone who failed to prevent your loved one’s suicide, such as a medical provider or a treatment facility. Read on to learn about wrongful death claims and what you can do to prevent suicide in Washington.

Wrongful death

Under Washington state law, wrongful death is when a person’s death “is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.” 

A common example is a car crash that results in the accidental death of another driver or a bystander. While the state may pursue a criminal case charging the driver with, for example, vehicular homicide, the deceased person’s family may also file a separate civil case for wrongful death. 

The family could end up receiving damages for the loss of their loved one, which could include any of the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral expenses
  • The deceased person’s lost wages or income
  • Pain and suffering on the part of the deceased
  • Loss of care or companionship on the part of the deceased’s loved ones

Wrongful death claims usually have to be filed within 3 years of the person’s death by a family member, spouse, or registered domestic partner of the deceased.

Suicide as wrongful death

There are a few cases in which someone may be liable for the wrongful death of a person who committed suicide. It’s important to remember that, in order to prove that someone is liable for wrongful death in Washington, you have to prove all of the following:

  • The defendant (the person you’re suing) had a duty to care for the deceased
  • The defendant breached that duty of care
  • That breach of duty caused the death of the deceased
  • Damages were suffered by the deceased’s estate or loved ones

It can be difficult to prove all of these factors in the case of a suicide, because the court may find that the deceased was primarily responsible for their own death. 

However, there are some cases in which it may be worth pursuing a wrongful death claim:

  • If a therapist or medical provider failed to learn about or document previous suicide attempts
  • If a therapist or medical provider knew about their patient’s suicidal impulses and failed to take steps to prevent it
  • If a hospital or treatment facility released their patient from care too early
  • If a hospital or treatment facility turned a patient away despite reports of suicidal impulses
  • If a psychiatrist or medical provider prescribed medicine that caused or exacerbated their patient’s suicidal impulses
  • If someone who had a duty to prevent it allowed the deceased to access the means to commit suicide (for example, an adult leaving out a gun for a minor to use)

Possible cases are certainly not limited to the above examples. The best way to find out if you have a case for wrongful death is to contact experienced personal injury attorneys like our team at the Gilbert Law Firm to discuss the details of your case.

However, it may be that a more useful option would be to pursue a different claim. For example, if you feel that a medical provider or psychiatrist is responsible for your loved one’s suicide, you might consider a medical malpractice suit instead of wrongful death.

Suicide prevention in Spokane, WA

One effect that a wrongful death suit may have is to alter the defendant’s behavior and prevent their negligence or carelessness from contributing to someone else’s suicide in the future. However, beyond wrongful death and medical malpractice suits, there are other ways to raise awareness around the issues of mental health and suicide prevention.

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week begins on Sunday, September 5, 2021. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will be hosting online events and social media campaigns to discuss mental health and provide resources for those who are in need of help.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is open 24 hours a day, and calls are free and confidential.

The Spokane Regional Health District has a list of local resources for those suffering from suicidal impulses and other mental health issues.

It’s never too early or too late to reach out for help. Act now and help prevent tragedy in the future.

Contact a Spokane attorney to discuss your wrongful death claim

At Gilbert Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping you and your family seek justice and receive compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one. Contact us today for a free consultation and to find out your best course of action going forward.

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