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Expert Witness Explains Liability Related to Inpatient Suicide

The dangers of inpatient suicide are often observable when the individual has little hope, appears depressed, has symptoms or is too happy. However, it is important to first assess the risk that suicide is possible, and then the professionals attempting to help the patient may avert the disaster before it occurs.

Experts are hired for claims of inpatient suicide when the physician was unable to observe that the person was a risk. If there are any symptoms or if there is a possibility that he or she could commit suicide, a psychological professional should be tasked with determining the case. It is crucial to predict the problem before it leads to a fatal incident, and this may remove the liability from the healthcare facility. However, if the family of someone that has died in this manner sues the hospital or attending physician, they may hire an expert witness to explain to the judge or jury how the patient’s mental or emotional state led to the death and this could have been discovered by the doctor.

The expert witness in the courtroom may explain how the healthcare facility is liable for damages when the person commits suicide and this incident could have been
prevented through extra care, preventative measures or persons monitoring the patient. However, if there was no risk involved, the hospital or doctor may have had no indication that he or she would have died through uncommon means. It is typically when the standards of care, guidelines and certain protocols have not been followed correctly that the patient may die without someone stopping him or her. This is one aspect the expert witness may explain to the court.

Assessing the Risk and Related Factors

While not all doctors are experienced at assessing the risk of a patient committing suicide, there are plenty that are able to observe the symptoms or behavior that could lead to an attempt on life. Based on the circumstances of the incident, injury or mental frame of the person, it is often easier to determine if there is any possible risk that the patient will attempt to kill himself or herself. Factors that may exist in these instances are past threats and behavior exhibited, the diagnosis of the condition, treatment in the past or refusal and if there is any follow-up for treatment and additional care.

There are various items to look for when there is a possibility of suicide. It is crucial to observe the patient carefully when he or she has exhibited psychosis, various delusions, acute depressive behavior and unstable moods. He or she may also show signs of instability, aggressive tendencies, impulsive actions and an assault on others. The living conditions of the patient and if there are caregivers available may also factor into these incidents. Drug, alcohol or substance abuse may contribute. If any of these or other actions have been observed and not followed up on, the healthcare facility or doctor may be liable for damages to the family of the deceased.

Liability Explained by the Expert

When an expert is hired for a claim for suicide incidents, he or she must explain how the healthcare facility or doctor is responsible for not paying attention to the signs of possible suicide while the patient was in the hospital. While not all patients may exhibit the signs that are obvious, someone with enough training should be available in case of these events. The expert will explain to the courtroom how the hospital or physician is responsible for damages when the death could have been avoided. A psychological consult should have been available to check on patients that appear or are observed to demonstrate odd or erratic behavior. Depressed persons in a hospital are often checked multiple times to avert potential disaster.

The expert may need to explain how the death was foreseeable and predictable based on the incident, the factors surrounding the death and if anyone corroborated behavior in line with possible suicidal tendencies. The testimony that the professional provides is generally enough that the judge or jury is aware to sufficiently deliberate with all needed information and data. Then, it is possible to make a determination and judge the defending party accordingly. If successful, the expert’s recommendation about compensation may be followed based on reasonable and fair amounts for the incident and the surviving loved ones or dependents. The hospital or doctor may be tasked with paying the damages to the plaintiff.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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