Monday, December 23, 2019

Arizona Appeals Court suggests it is time to starting thinking of suicide as any other intervening cause

As in many other jurisdictions, a decedent's conduct in committing suicide is considered a superseding cause, presumably based on the notion that it is always unforeseeable that someone would commit suicide. 

But we all know that this statement is nonsense.  That someone might commit suicide is as foreseeable as any other intervening event.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.  And, for that reason, it is not convincing to hold as a matter of law that suicide is always unforeseeable.  Yet, that is what many courts do.

I am writing about this today because I just read in Bloomberg news that an Arizona appeals court recently dismissed a legal malpractice suit against two law firms brought by the parents of a woman who killed herself.  The court cited that accepted view of suicide as a superseding cause as the reason for its ruling, but urged the state supreme court to revisit “the aging majority rule” because it’s “primitive and unduly inflexible."

I agree, particularly given the statistics about suicide in this country, that as the court stated, the suicide rule is outdated, noting that it “draws from society’s historical view of suicide as sinful and immoral.”  The court's opinion states in fact that it "would not adopt the majority rule if it were within the scope of our authority to make that decision.”

The case is called Parton v. Jeans.

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