Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults in the United States. In Florida alone there are more than 3,000 suicides each year, according to statistics compiled by the state’s Department of Children and Families.
The question that goes through the family of every suicide vicvtim is simple: Could this have been prevented? More to the point, was someone in a position to stop the victim from taking his or her or own life? And if so, was that person negligent in failing to act in time?
When Is a School District Liable for a Student’s Suicide?
There have been a number of wrongful death lawsuits in recent years arising from suicides. Many of these claims focus on individuals and institutions that had a custodial responsibility towards the victim, such as schools and law enforcement. These lawsuits all face a similar problem: How do you prove the defendant was legally responsible for the death of someone who decided to take their own life?
In one landmark Florida case, Wyke v. Polk County School Board, a 13-year-old boy committed suicide after two previous failed attempts. The prior attempts took place at school. Even though administrators were aware of these actions, they failed to notify the child’s parents, provide counseling, or make any effort to place the child into protective custody to prevent his third–and ultimately successful–attempt.
The child’s mother subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school board. At trial, expert witnesses testified the school system “provided inadequate training for school administrators and teachers” in handling suicidal students. Had there been such training in place, the experts said the victim would not have ultimately succeeded in killing himself. The jury agreed the school negligently “failed to supervise” the victim and awarded damages of $500,000.
More recently, the parents of a deceased 15-year-old boy in Wakulla County, Florida, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the local school board, alleging it failed to stop a teacher from committing “sexual battery” against their son. The lawsuit alleges the boy sustained “mental anguish” and “loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life” as a result of the teacher’s actions, which culminated in his suicide. Similar to the Wyke case, the parents here point to “negligent supervision” as the basis for their wrongful death claim, although in this case the failure to supervise focuses on the teacher rather than the student.
Speak with a Miami Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
The truth is that the law governing civil liability for suicide is highly fact-specific. In general, the plaintiff must prove the defendant had some reason to know the victim was suicidal. There must also be proof that it was “reasonably foreseeable” that the defendant’s action–or inaction–would lead to suicide.
Given the complexity of the law in this area, it is critical to work with an experienced Miami wrongful death attorney who understands how to fully investigate and present a case in court. If you have lost a loved one due to suicide and believe a third-party may be partially to blame, contact Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum, LLP, at 305-371-2692 today to schedule a consultation.