Michael J. Sacopulos, Esq.

Several weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Missouri reinstated the wrongful death claim against a spine surgeon. The case involves a patient that committed suicide allegedly because of the pain cause by spinal surgery. The patient first underwent surgery in January 2005, to correct the curvature of his spine. Unhappy with the results of the procedure, the patient and his wife filed a medical malpractice action in July of 2005. In March of 2006, the patient committed suicide, leaving his wife and daughter to amend the medical malpractice action into a wrongful death action.

During depositions, a treating psychiatrist of the patient stated that suicide was not a rational choice and thus was not a voluntary act. This statement had legal significance. If the suicide was deemed to be possibly voluntarily, a jury could consider it independent, intervening act and go on to conclude that the spinal surgeon was not responsible for the patient’s death. The trial court judge found that the psychiatrist’s statement on suicide was a personal opinion and not a scientific conclusion and thus blocked the testimony. The patient’s family appealed.

The Supreme Court of Missouri reasoned that because the patient is now deceased, it is impossible to “provide direct evidence as to why he acted as he did, an expert witness may be used to interpret the facts and data relating to his injury and to supply the causal link from the injury to his death.” With that, the wrongful death action was reinstated and the case now awaits trial. This case has currently been in litigation for approximately six years.

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