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The Florida Supreme Court has accepted review of Granicz v. Chirillo, 147 So. 3d 544 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), where the Second District reversed a summary judgment in favor of a psychotherapist, finding that plaintiff’s expert testimony established that the psychotherapist owed a legal duty to prevent his outpatient’s suicide.  See Chirillo v. Granicz, No. SC14-898.

This case arises from the suicide of Jacqueline Granicz, who had been treated for depression as an outpatient by Dr. Joseph S. Chirillo, Jr. beginning in 2005.  In October 2008, Jacqueline called Dr. Chirillo’s office and reported that for about four months “she had not felt right”, was under mental strain and crying easily, was not sleeping well, and was having gastrointestinal problems.  Jacqueline attributed these problems to her current antidepressant medication and told Dr. Chirillo’s office that she had stopped taking it.  Dr. Chirillo changed Jacqueline’s medication and referred her to a gastroenterologist, but did not insist that she schedule an appointment with him.  The next day Jacqueline committed suicide.

Jacqueline’s husband, Robert Granicz, as personal representative of Jacqueline’s estate, sued Dr. Chirillo, alleging that he breached his duty of care in treating Jacqueline.  Dr. Chirillo moved for summary judgment arguing that he did not owe a duty to Jacqueline as a matter of law to prevent her from committing an unforeseeable suicide while not in his control.  To oppose the motion, Granicz filed the depositions of two experts who testified that the standard of care required Dr. Chirillo to see Jacqueline, assess her condition to determine if she was having thoughts of suicide, and to intervene if necessary.  The trial court granted entered final summary judgment against Granicz based on its finding, as a matter of law, that Dr. Chirillo did not owe a duty to prevent the unforeseeable suicide of an outpatient.

The Second District reversed.  It found that the trial court in determining whether a duty was owed should have focused broadly on whether “whether the [Dr. Chirillo’s] conduct created a foreseeable zone of risk,” instead of whether Dr. Chirillo could foresee the specific injury that actually occurred.  Applying this “foreseeable zone of risk” test, which derives from the Florida Supreme Court’s landmark decision in McCain v. Florida Power Corp., the Second District concluded that Granicz’s expert testimony established that Dr. Chirillo owed a legal duty to Jacqueline that precluded summary judgment.  The Second District, however, recognized that its decision conflicts with that of the First District in Lawlor v. Orlando, 795 So. 2d 147 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001).

The parties have completed their briefing in the Florida Supreme Court and oral argument is scheduled for September 2, 2015.

Image Courtesy of Flickr by Sean McGrath (no changes).