§13.6 Suicide Cases

The Case: White v. Lawrence , 975 S.W.2d 525 (Tenn. 1998).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, administratrix of a patient's estate, filed suit against the doctor for medical malpractice. Plaintiff alleges that the doctor covertly gave the drug commonly known as "Antabuse"-a drug which creates an "unpleasant" reaction to alcohol, typically used to discourage the consumption of alcohol- to the deceased's wife, who then administered the drug to the deceased, unbeknownst to him (the deceased). The patient later committed suicide.

The Bottom Line:

  • "The issues to be decided are whether the decedent's suicide was a superseding, intervening cause, thereby precluding recovery against the defendant as a matter of law, and whether the decedent's suicide may be considered in determining the fault of the defendant under McIntyre v. Balentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992). The conclusions are that the decedent's act of suicide was not a superseding, intervening cause of death as a matter of law, but a question of fact to be resolved at trial, and the decedent's intentional act of committing suicide may not be considered in assessing fault against the defendant." 975 S.W.2d at 527.
  • "As the expert testimony in this case demonstrates, the foreseeability or likelihood of a suicide does not necessarily depend upon the mental capacity of the deceased at the time the suicide was committed. The fact that the deceased was not insane or bereft of reason does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the suicide, which is the purported intervening cause, is unforeseeable. As our cases dealing with proximate or legal causation have indicated, the crucial inquiry is whether the defendant's negligent conduct led to or made it reasonably foreseeable that the deceased would commit suicide. If so, the suicide is not an independent intervening cause breaking the chain of legal causation. Those decisions holding to the contrary are overruled." Id. at 530.
  • "The second issue to be considered is whether the decedent's intentional act of committing suicide may be considered in determining the fault of the defendant." Id.
  • "The same principles that were found to preclude comparison of fault in Turner apply with equal force to the instant case. The defendant's liability may not be reduced by comparing his negligent conduct with the decedent's intentional act of committing suicide since the intentional act was a foreseeable risk created by the defendant's negligence.FN3
    FN3 Judge Drowota's dissent would hold that where the intentional wrongdoing of a patient is the foreseeable risk created by the negligent physician, comparison of fault is appropriate if the patient is a party to the suit. The rationale for the Turner decision, that "fairness dictates that [a negligent defendant] should not be permitted to rely upon the foreseeable harm it had a duty to prevent so as to reduce its liability" is sound, and the holding of Turner is applicable whether the patient is or is not a party."
    Id . at 531.

Recent Cases: Linkous v. Lane , No. E2007-01054-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2052617 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 14, 2008) (upholding summary judgment finding suicide was not foreseeable); Drake v. Williams, No. M2007-00979-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 1850872 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2008) (reversing summary judgment finding jury question as to whether suicide was a foreseeable result of doctor's alleged negligence, and therefore finding it was improper for the trial court to find suicide to be a superseding, intervening cause of death as a matter of law).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

To schedule an appointment, contact us online or call us at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787.



The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

Client Reviews
  • Everything was great. You guys are a great representative. I was satisfied with everything. Truly appreciate John Day and his hard-working staff.
    ★★★★★
  • We thought that you did an excellent job in representing us in our lawsuit. We would recommend you to anyone.
    ★★★★★
  • The Law Offices of John Day is, without a doubt, the best in Nashville! They treated me with the utmost respect and tended to my every need. No question went unanswered. I was always kept informed of every step in the process. I received phenomenal results; I couldn't ask for more. I would definitely hire the Law Offices of John Day again.
    ★★★★★
  • I would definitely recommend to anyone to hire John Day's law firm because everyone was helpful, made everything clear and got the job done. I am satisfied with how my case was handled.
    ★★★★★
  • It's been a long battle but this firm has been very efficient and has done a remarkable job for me! I highly recommend them to anyone needing legal assistance. Everyone has always been very kind and kept me informed of all actions promptly.
    ★★★★★
  • I had a great experience with the Law Offices of John Day. The staff was very accommodating, and my phone calls/emails were always responded to in a timely manner. They made the entire process very easy and stress-free for me, and I had confidence that my case was in good hands. I am very happy with the results, and I highly recommend!
    ★★★★★