If you have lost a loved one to suicide while in the care of a Texas hospital, you may wonder if you have any legal options. While it is a tragic and challenging situation, it is possible to sue a hospital for negligence if they failed to properly care for your family member, leading to their death by suicide.
However, it is essential to note that proving hospital negligence in a suicide case can be challenging. It is a complex legal process that requires the assistance of an experienced attorney, such as Glenn W. Cunningham.
Legal Aspects of Suicide in Texas Hospitals
When a family member dies by suicide in a Texas hospital, it’s essential to understand the legal elements of a suicide cause of action in Texas to determine whether you have a legal case:
- To prove medical malpractice in a suicide case, you must show that the hospital or healthcare provider breached their duty of care to the patient. This means they failed to provide the standard of care that a reasonable healthcare provider would have provided in similar circumstances.
- Additionally, you must show that the breach of duty was a cause of the patient's death by suicide and resulted in damages, such as emotional distress, lost wages, or medical expenses.
It is important to note that Texas has a strict statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases. You must file a claim within two years of the date of the alleged negligence.
Family Member's Rights and Responsibilities
If you have lost a loved one to suicide while they were in the care of a Texas hospital, you may be wondering what your rights and responsibilities are. Here are some key things to keep in mind:
- You have the right to request a copy of your loved one's medical records. This can help you understand what happened and whether the hospital was negligent in any way.
- You have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital if you believe they were responsible for your loved one's death by suicide. However, you must prove that the hospital was negligent and that this negligence was a cause of your loved one's death by suicide.
- You have the responsibility to assist in gathering as much evidence as possible to support your case. This may include medical records, witness statements, and expert testimony.
- You are also responsible for working with a skilled attorney who can help you navigate the legal system and fight for your rights.
Possible Grounds for Lawsuit
Here are some possible grounds for a lawsuit:
Negligence occurs when a hospital or healthcare provider fails to provide the appropriate standard of care, harming the patient. If your loved one's death by suicide resulted from negligence by the hospital or healthcare provider, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.
Examples of negligence in this context could include:
- Failing to assess the patient's risk of suicide properly.
The standard of care requires hospitals and healthcare providers to properly screen patients at risk for suicide using a validated assessment tool, such as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Risk scale. This research-supported industry tool for suicide risk assessment has been shown to be very sensitive and specific to identifying those at risk for suicide. Once screened—and a suicide risk is detected, a systematic suicide assessment should be conducted by qualified staff.
- Failing to monitor the patient properly.
Safety is the priority when caring for patients, especially those patients who are a danger to themselves. Providers and facilities owe a duty to the patient to provide a safe environment and to implement steps to decrease the risk of harm. For patients who have expressed suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors, the primary intervention is appropriate supervision by staff.
The standard of care requires hospitals and attending physicians to place patients on a monitored observation level of 1:1 supervision or “line of sight” continuous visual observation until an adequate suicide screen and/or suicide risk assessment demonstrated that the patient is at low risk for self-harm.
- Failing to provide a safe environment of care.
Hanging is the most common means of an attempted suicide in a hospital. The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Alerts note that 90% of inpatient suicides are related to environmental deficiencies. Therefore, the standard of care requires hospitals to provide patients with a safe environment of care, which is devoid of the means of attempting suicide by hanging (e.g., doorknobs, shower bars, belts, shoelaces, bedsheets), access to a private area (e.g., locked bathroom), and unsupervised time and opportunity in which to attempt or complete suicide (due to inadequate supervision or observation level).
Proving Negligence in a Suicide Case
When a family member dies by suicide in a Texas hospital, it can be challenging to determine whether or not the hospital or its staff were negligent. To prove negligence, you must be able to show that the hospital or its staff breached their duty of care to the patient and that this breach directly caused the patient's death by suicide.
One way to prove negligence is to show that the hospital or its staff failed to follow established protocols for suicide prevention. Hospitals have a duty to provide a safe environment for their patients, including taking steps to prevent suicide. If the hospital or its staff failed to follow established protocols, such as conducting suicide risk assessments or monitoring high-risk patients, this may be evidence of negligence.
Another way to prove negligence is to show that the hospital or its staff failed to respond appropriately to warning signs of suicide. Patients at risk of suicide may exhibit warning signs, such as expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors or showing symptoms of depression or anxiety. If the hospital or its staff failed to recognize or respond appropriately to these warning signs, this may be evidence of negligence.
The Process of Filing a Lawsuit
Here are the basic steps involved in the process:
- Your attorney must gather evidence to support your case, including medical records, witness statements, and other documentation related to your loved one's hospitalization and care.
- Your attorney will file a complaint with the court, outlining the details of your case and the damages you seek. The defendant will have a chance to respond to the complaint.
- Both sides will exchange information and evidence through a process called discovery. This may involve exchanging written questions, called interrogatories, and making requests for pertinent documents, as well as taking depositions (i.e., obtaining sworn testimony) of persons with knowledge of relevant facts.
- Before going to trial, the parties may attempt to resolve the case through a process called mediation, in which a neutral third party helps the parties negotiate.
- If mediation fails, the case will go to trial. Your attorney will present evidence and arguments to the judge or jury, and the defendant will have a chance to respond.
- If the judge or jury finds in your favor, you will be awarded damages. If the defendant wins, you will not receive any compensation.
Potential Challenges in a Suicide Lawsuit
If you are considering filing a lawsuit for the suicide of a family member in a Texas hospital, it is crucial to be aware of potential challenges you may face:
- Hospitals and healthcare providers are generally held in high esteem, and proving negligence will require expert testimony and extensive evidence to overcome the jury’s inherent bias in favor of the medical community
- The hospital may argue that the deceased family member was solely responsible for their death by suicide and/or that it is not possible to prevent suicide
- Even if you are successful in proving negligence, damages in a suicide lawsuit may be difficult to quantify
- Texas law allows for both economic and non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, but there are limits on the amount of damages you can recover
Legal Outcomes and Compensation
Legal compensation is a way to seek monetary damages for harm caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of another party. In the case of a hospital's negligence, legal compensation may be available to the affected parties.
If you can prove that the hospital acted negligently, you may be able to receive compensation for a variety of damages, including:
- Medical expenses, to include costs associated with hospitalization, medication, and rehabilitation
- Funeral expenses (i.e., costs associated with the funeral service, burial, and related expenses)
- Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of familial relationship with the deceased
However, it is essential to note that each case is unique, and the amount of compensation awarded can vary widely. Factors that may impact the amount of compensation awarded include:
- The severity of the harm caused
- The extent of the hospital's negligence
- The availability of evidence to support your claim
The Law Offices of Glenn W. Cunningham Is Here For You
If you are dealing with the aftermath of a family member's death by suicide in a Texas hospital, the Law Offices of Glenn W. Cunningham can help you understand your options and pursue justice on your behalf.
Our experienced legal team deeply understands Texas law and can provide you with the guidance and support you need during this difficult time. We have a track record of success in cases involving medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other areas of personal injury law.
When you work with us, you can rest assured that we will fight tirelessly to protect your rights and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. We understand the emotional toll that this situation can take on you and your family, and we are here to provide compassionate, personalized legal representation every step of the way.
Don't hesitate to contact us today. Let us help you get the justice and closure you deserve.