A Florida court ruled that a psychotherapist did not owe a legal duty to an outpatient client who committed suicide.

Church Law and Tax 2002-09-01


Key point. Counselors (secular and pastoral) generally are not responsible for the suicide of a counselee.

* A Florida court ruled that a psychotherapist did not owe a legal duty to an outpatient client who committed suicide. While the case involved a secular counselor, it will be directly relevant to pastoral counselors. A counselee suffering from major depression entered into a counseling relationship with a psychologist. The counselee committed suicide after the counseling relationship had ended, but his family sued the psychologist alleging that her incompetent counseling directly caused the suicide. The court disagreed: "We see nothing … to indicate that the suicide … might have been foreseeable. The testimony of [the counselee’s] ex-wife and others who knew him during the time he was being treated … was that he showed no indication of suicidal tendencies; there is no evidence of suicide attempts, threats of suicide, nor any mention of suicide; and a suicide screening … only a few months prior to his suicide revealed no risk of suicide. There is evidence that he suffered from depression and met other risk factors, but that evidence does not necessarily create a foreseeable zone of risk of suicide for imposing a legal duty on his psychotherapist." Lawlor v. Orlando, 795 So.2d 147 (Fla. App. 2001).

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