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“The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Suicide Breaks The Chain of Causation, Barring Wrongful Death Claims

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Can suicide be the basis for a wrongful death case? Rarely says the Illinois Supreme Court. It almost always will be a superseding, intervening act ending causation.

Plaintiff filed a wrongful death action following her husband’s suicide. In this particular case, the plaintiffs were less than clear about the “injury” that precipitated the decedent’s death. Although the survival count was predicated on the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the wrongful death count itself does not identify any injury to decedent that caused his death or identify on what legal theory defendant’s conduct was “wrongful”. In a conclusory fashion, the complaint stated only that “as a result of the wrongful acts of defendants described above, the decedent committed suicide.”

The general rule, applicable in negligence actions, is that the injured party’s voluntary act of suicide is an independent intervening act which is unforeseeable as a matter of law and which breaks the chain of causation from the tortfeasor’s negligent conduct. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, holding it was a rare case in which a suicide would not break the chain of causation and bar a cause of action for wrongful death, even where the plaintiff alleges the defendant inflicted severe emotional distress. As a matter of law, decedent’s suicide was not a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s alleged conduct and the wrongful death count was dismissed. Turcios v. DeBruler Co., 2015 IL 117962, 32 N.E.3d 1117.

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