A young man’s suicide begged the question: What happened?
A young man committed suicide leaving behind his wife and small children. Although his wife knew he had suffered depression, and that he had been seeing a psychiatrist for the previous six years, she had no idea what had prompted her husband’s suicide. Until one day, she located the diary he had kept during that period of time.
He wrote about a growing despair and hopelessness, which included thoughts of suicide. What did his psychiatrist know? Could there have been a breach of the accepted standards of care?
To get more information, we sent a records request to the man’s psychiatrist. The psychiatrist had kept essentially no treatment notes over the years he had treated the decedent, making a conventional approach to deposing a treating physician based upon his records impossible. Although the failure to keep records may in and of itself have been a breach of accepted standards of care for a psychiatrist, we still needed to prove that he knew of the decedent’s suicidal thoughts and had failed to act to protect him from harm.
On reviewing the decedent’s diary, we could see what was on his mind and presumed that he would have discussed with his psychiatrist the concerns he had that he was recording in the diary. Accordingly, the entire six-hour deposition of the psychiatrist was structured based upon asking him whether or not the decedent had told him about and discussed with him the things that were recorded in the diary which included, leading up to the suicide, a sense of despair, a bleak hopelessness for the future, and many of the specific indicia of a potentially lethal suicidality. In the course of his deposition, the defendant admitted that the decedent had in fact discussed with him many of the subjects recorded in the diary, including his thoughts of suicide.
Following the deposition we were able to get the case settled and provide for the needs of his widow and children.