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Liability for Suicide


Case: In Re Estate of Christina Marie Cotton

Issue: Can a personal be liable for someone committing suicide with that person’s firearm, where the person is aware of mental illness and shows him or her where the firearm is located?

Facts: Decedent was in a rocky relationship the Defendant, and also had a history of mental issues including a suicide attempt. Defendant had a gun in his house and at one time showed it to Decedent. Decedent used the firearm to commit suicide. Decedent’s estate sued Defendant for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, determining that he owed no duty of care to the decedent and that her suicide was an independent, intervening cause that broke the chain of causation.

Appellate Decision: The intermediate court reversed, holding in favor of Decedent. The court reviewed details from the record supporting a conclusion that it was “reasonably foreseeable” Decedent might harm herself with Defendant’s firearm, that showing her the location of the weapon created an unreasonable risk of harm, and that “the degree of foreseeability of the risk and the gravity of the harm outweighed the burden” of an alternative course of action.

Review Granted: January 18, 2018.

Prediction: Ben thinks the Supreme Court is likely to affirm the denial of summary judgment. Although there appear to be conflicting facts as to whether Defendant could have anticipated the suicide, there are enough facts supporting the Decedent’s position to make this a jury question.