Suicide Malpractice: A Duty Physicians Have To Watch Over Patient’s Wellbeing


When one hears the term, “medical malpractice,” mental images of surgeons in operating rooms operating on something they are not supposed to, or perhaps even leaving a surgical tool inside of a patient, may come to mind. There are many ways, however, that medical malpractice may take place. One such example that may not immediately come to mind is suicide malpractice.

A suicide malpractice claim may be brought against a physician for any of the following reasons: failure to learn about and document prior suicide attempts, failing to properly assess a patient for suicide, failing to take into account input from the patient’s family, failing to take into account a patient’s behavior prior to discharge from a hospital, and failure to protect a patient from suicide.

When dealing with a suicide malpractice claim, the issue always revolves around whether or not the physician had any foreseeability of the suicide occurring. Physicians, especially psychiatrists, must make sure they appropriately monitor their patients that do exhibit any suicidal tendencies. There must also be appropriate documentation kept that indicates improvement in the patient before such a patient is released from the treating physician’s care. Unfortunately, many patients are discharged prematurely and put at risk of self-harm simply because their insurance is no longer willing to reimburse the physician because the patient used up the allotted covered treatment sessions.

Cases pertaining to suicide malpractice are not easy cases and are often difficult to win. This is mostly because juries seemingly hold the suicidal individuals as self-destructive and responsible for their own fatal behavior. This is not, however, always the case. There was a case two years ago involving a Syracuse native, Mr. Mazella, whom took his own life while on antidepressants. In this particular case, the treating physician, one William Beals, prescribed the patient with Paxil. Dr. Beals, however, did not deem it necessary to see Mr. Mazella over the 10-year course of Mr. Mazella being on Paxil. When Mr. Mazella tried contacting Dr. Beals upon a reoccurrence of depression and anxiety, Dr. Beals, on vacation, doubled Mr. Mazella’s dosage from 20 to 40 mg, while also prescribing Zyprexa. Again, Dr. Beals did not deem it necessary to see Mr. Mazella in person after this new drug dosage. One month later, Mr. Mazella took his own life.

The New York State (NYS) Board for Professional Medical Conduct disciplined Dr. Beals by placing him on probation due to his not seeing patients after prescribing patients with such drugs. He was also put on probation for abusing alcohol and drugs. The jury, in this case, awarded $1.5 million to the man’s family because they found Dr. Beals’ actions alone were the cause of Mr. Mazella’s suicide.

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