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Supreme Court Rules Against Doctor In Sarasota Suicide

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Nearly eight years after a Sarasota County woman committed suicide, the Florida Supreme Court said Thursday her husband can pursue a lawsuit against a physician about care provided before her death.

Justices unanimously ruled that the case should go to trial, upholding a 2014 decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The ruling was a victory for the husband of Jacqueline Granicz, a 55-year-old woman who had a history of depression and hanged herself in a garage in October 2008. The husband, Robert Granicz, filed a medical-malpractice lawsuit alleging that Jacqueline Granicz's primary-care physician, Joseph Chirillo, breached a "duty of care" resulting in the suicide, the ruling said.

A circuit judge ruled in favor of Chirillo on a motion for summary judgment, finding that the doctor "did not have a duty to prevent the unforeseeable suicide," the Supreme Court ruling said. But the appeals court and the Supreme Court disagreed with the circuit judge on the duty of care.

"The decedent in this case was an outpatient of Dr. Chirillo's. Therefore, under Florida law, there was no duty to prevent her suicide," said the ruling, written by Justice Peggy Quince and joined fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and James E.C. Perry. "However, the nonexistence of one specific type of duty does not mean that Dr. Chirillo owed the decedent no duty at all. … Although the inpatient duty to prevent suicide does not apply here, there still existed a statutory duty … to treat the decedent in accordance with the standard of care. We find that the Second District (Court of Appeal) properly evaluated the … case based on the statutory duty owed to the decedent and also properly classified the foreseeability of the decedent's suicide as a matter of fact for the jury to decide in determining proximate cause."

Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston agreed with the result but did not sign on to the opinion, which sent the case back to circuit court with instructions to move forward with a trial.

Jacqueline Granicz called the doctor's office on Oct. 8, 2008, reporting that she was under mental strain, crying easily and having gastrointestinal problems, the ruling said. After learning about the call from an assistant, Chirillo decided to change Granicz's antidepressant medication and refer her to a gastroenterologist.

The doctor's office called Granicz and told her she could pick up samples of the medication and a prescription but did not schedule an appointment with the doctor. Granicz picked up the items but was found dead the next day.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.