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Health News Florida

Justices To Weigh Doctor's Care Before Patient Suicide

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a medical-malpractice dispute that focuses on whether a family physician provided adequate care before a patient committed suicide.

The court released a schedule Thursday that said arguments in the Sarasota County case will be heard Sept. 2. The case stems from the October 2008 death of Jacqueline Granicz, who was a patient of family physician Joseph Chirillo and had been treated for depression.

Granicz, 55, called the doctor's office the day before her suicide and complained of issues such as mental strain, according to court documents. After learning about the call from an assistant, Chirillo decided to change Granicz's medication and refer her to a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal issues.

Granicz's husband, Robert, filed the lawsuit alleging that Chirillo was negligent in his handling of the situation, at least in part because the doctor did not see the patient after the call.

A circuit judge granted summary judgment to Chirillo.

But the 2nd District Court of Appeal last year reversed that decision, allowing the lawsuit to move forward --- and prompting Chirillo to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. In a brief filed in February, Chirillo's attorneys argued, in part, that the suicide could not be foreseeable to Chirillo and that state law treats suicide differently than other types of injuries or death.

"There are sound legal and practical reasons --- already explained by Florida courts --- for a physician to be held not to owe a legal duty to an outpatient who commits suicide, and thus, for this unique injury to be governed by different rules than those applicable to physical injuries alleged to be caused by medical malpractice,'' the brief said.

But in a March brief, Robert Granicz's attorneys pointed to expert testimony that Chirillo should have seen Jacqueline Granicz and assessed her condition after the call to the doctor's office.

"Doctors can foresee that failing to treat their patients in a timely and proper fashion puts them in harm's way,'' the Granicz brief said. "Drilling down further, doctors treating patients for depression can foresee that failing to treat them in a timely and competent manner may result in suicide."

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