Provider Liability and Duty of Care in Outpatient Mental Health Setting

Chirillo v. Granicz, 41 Fla. L. Weekly 345 (2016)

In medical malpractice suit against psychiatrist for suicide of patient, Supreme Court of Florida rules that while there is no provider duty to prevent suicide in the outpatient setting, there is still a duty of care owed to the patient and the case presented a genuine issue of material fact as to whether that duty was breached.

Background: Robert Granicz filed a medical malpractice case against his deceased wife’s primary care physician, Dr. Joseph Chirillo, alleging he breached his duty of care in treating her, which resulted in her suicide. The decedent had a history of depression and began seeing Dr. Chirillo, who changed her medication from Prozac to Effexor. Following that change the decendant called Dr. Chirillo’s office and told his medical assistant that she had stopped taking the Effexor because of side effects and that she had not felt right for the past few months. This information was given to Dr. Chirillo, who changed the decedent’s prescription to Lexapro. Dr. Chirillo’s office called the decedent and told her to pick up her new prescription, but did not request that she schedule an appointment with Dr. Chirillo. The decedent picked up her prescription later that same day, but Granicz found her body hanging in their garage the next day. Dr. Chirillo filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that he owed no duty to prevent a patient’s unforeseeable suicide while the patient was not in his control. The trial court granted the motion, but the Second District reversed on appeal.

Holding: The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed the decision of the Second District and held that the plaintiff showed a genuine issue of material fact regarding the proximate cause of his wife’s suicide. The court remanded the case for trial.

Notable Point:

First District Case: The Florida Supreme Court explicitly disapproved the analysis regarding duty used by the First District in Lawlor v. Orlando, 795 So. 2d 147 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2001).

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 3