It is not often that a doctor is found liable for the suicide of a patient, but that is exactly what happened in a recent New York case.
A jury found that the negligent treatment by a physician led a 51-year old man commit suicide in 2009. The man’s family was awarded more than $1.5 million after two days of deliberation by a jury following a two-week trial. The physician had been prescribing the antidepressant Paxil to the patient to treat his depression, but had not actually seen his patient in more than 10 years. The physician was filling prescriptions over the phone without having office visits or examinations of the patient. In early 2012, the physicians was charged by the state health department with negligence for prescribing medications for patients for many years without seeing them in his office, and was placed on probation for three years.
A few months later, the doctor was disciplined for abusing drugs and alcohol himself, and his probation was extended to five years. Shortly before the patient’s death, he began having anxiety attacks and the physician prescribed an additional antidepressant and doubled the patient’s dose of Paxil. This resulted in the patient becoming ill and going to the hospital with what he thought was a heart attack. The hospital ruled out a heart attack and lowered his dosage of Paxil.
Soon afterwards, the patient had his first office visit with the doctor in over a decade and told the physician about his hospital visit. The physician allegedly became furious that his patient had gone to the hospital and revealed his treatment, and he refused to treat the patient anymore. The patient committed suicide within a few weeks. His widow said she hopes the verdict sends a message to patients to be careful about physicians overmedicating.