I've been put unwillingly in the position of consulting an attorney over the question of whether to file suit against a psychologist for negligence in the death by suicide of one of her patients to whom I was related.
The claim would be based on the theory that as the psychologist knew from the patient's mouth that he was a danger to himself, and also knew that he had just obtained a .38 cal pistol, and the patient failed to fulfill his promise to keep an appointment with the psychologist, it was negligence on her part not to have called the police. That she did not call the police led proximately to the death of the patient.
For some background favorable to the potential defense, once she knew her patient had obtained a weapon and had said he would use it on himself, the psychologist consulted the psychiatrist in the case who prescribed medication. She also consulted other experts in the treatment and prevention of suicide. The experts consulted by the psychologist advised her that at some point adult patients must be taught to take responsibility for their own decisions. In this case, she was told the patient could be persuaded to agree to a group session with his parents and the psychologist at which he would surrender the weapon to his mother. The Thursday and Friday appointments were part of that agreement. The patient had never broken a previous commitment to the psychologist and had never lied to her previously.
She made her decision not to call the police when the patient failed to show up at an agreed upon time on a Thursday, and again failed to keep a Friday appointment, saying he would come in the next day.
Instead, the patient took his own life in the early hours of that Saturday.
The questions for discussion are several. I prefer to present them one at a time and progress through them at the proper point in any discussion that ensues.
1. Assuming the psychologist was legally negligent in failing to call the police, what should be the award against her in this case?
Note that the only relief that can be granted is an award of money -- not for compensation, but only for pain and suffering caused the surviving parents and sister due to the death of the patient.
Note, finally, that the jurisdiction in which the case would be tried before a jury is an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., in fact, one of the most affluent areas in the US.
I'm not going to argue about any of this.
I'm just looking for thoughtful reactions,