Liability for a Person's Suicide

Traditionally, courts refused to hold a person or entity liable for a person's suicide. Suicide was considered an illegal, deliberate and intentional act that broke the chain of causation between any negligent or intentional conduct and the suicide.

It is still the general rule that a person or entity is not legally responsible for the suicide of another. However, courts have created the following two exceptions to the general rule:

A person or entity that has actually caused a person to commit suicide may be liable for the deceased person's death.

  • In order to fall within this exception, the person or entity must have inflicted severe physical or mental injury upon the deceased person, causing the deceased person to commit suicide.
  • Courts tend to apply this exception only in extreme and unusual cases.

A person or entity that had a duty to prevent a person from committing suicide may be liable for that person's death by suicide.

  • Generally, there is no duty to prevent suicide. However, a duty to prevent suicide may arise when there is a special relationship between the parties.
  • Courts have held that jails, mental hospitals and reform schools have a duty to prevent their inmates or residents from committing suicide. This duty arises because the entity has actual physical custody and control over its inmates or residents.

Copyright 2009 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.