Who Can Be Held Liable in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When a person dies due to someone else’s negligence, even if it is unintentional, the victim’s family may have a cause of action for wrongful death. Under Florida law, a party is negligent when it violates a duty owed to the victim. Such a duty exists whenever a person “undertakes to provide a service to others” and acts in a manner creates a foreseeable risk to those individuals.

But not every contractual relationship gives rise to this duty of care. And not every irresponsible action gives rise to a wrongful death claim. A recent Florida appeals court decision illustrates this principle.

Florida Court Says Bank Not Responsible for Customer’s Suicide

This case involves a tragic suicide. The victim suffered from a number of “mental and physical impairments,” which, among other things, made him unable to “process complex information.” The victim was especially sensitive to “negative financial information.”

Shortly before his death, the victim and his wife attempted to secure a loan from a local bank. The victim’s family asked the bank not to directly contact him regarding the loan, except for routine matters like requesting documents. A bank manager agreed to these terms, but an employee subsequently notified the victim by letter his loan had been denied. After the family complained, the manager reiterated to his employee not to contact the victim.

However, the employee continued to disregard instructions and again informed the victim, this time in person. After leaving the bank, the victim committed suicide. His wife, acting as executor of her husband’s estate and as next-of-kin, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the bank.

A trial court dismissed the case, and on appeal the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed. The appeals court noted under Florida law, “Generally no liability exists for another’s suicide in the absence of a specific duty of care.” The primary exception to this rule is when a psychological institution assumes responsibility for a patient. There may also be a cause of action under Florida law against a psychiatrist when a patient under his or her care commits suicide.

Obviously, these exceptions did not apply to this case. And as the Court of Appeal noted, the bank “did not assume a specific duty of care to prevent the decedent from committing suicide.” Nor could the bank assume such a duty because the deceased was never under its “custody or control.” So even if the bank was irresponsible in ignoring the family’s wishes not to communicate with the victim, it cannot be held legally responsible for his suicide.

Need Advice on a Wrongful Death Claim?

It is always terrible when a family loses a loved one. It is only natural to want to hold someone responsible. If you have reason to believe another person or persons’ negligence led to your family member’s death, you should consult with an experienced Clearwater wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. While an attorney cannot make any guarantees, he can provide you with impartial advice on the best way to proceed with your case. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., today if you would like to speak with an attorney today.

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