Stepakoff v. Kantar

393 Mass. 836, 473 N.E.2d 1131 (1985)

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Stepakoff v. Kantar

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
393 Mass. 836, 473 N.E.2d 1131 (1985)

Facts

Gerald Stepakoff had been seeing Dr. William G. Kantar (defendant), a licensed psychiatrist, for a little over a year before committing suicide. When Stepakoff began seeing Dr. Kantar, the doctor noted that Stepakoff was potentially suicidal. However, after getting to know Stepakoff, Dr. Kantar believed that Stepakoff’s defense mechanisms would prevent him from committing the act, and the two had a pact that Stepakoff would call Dr. Kantar if he was feeling suicidal. The weekend that Stepakoff committed suicide, his wife had asked him to be out of the house when she returned from a weekend trip. Stepakoff’s wife phoned Dr. Kantar to inform him of her request and to express concern for Stepakoff’s wellbeing. Dr. Kantar was on vacation. However, before his departure, Dr. Kantar provided Stepakoff with contact information for another psychiatrist, if needed, and agreed to contact Stepakoff nightly to discuss his mental condition. As evidenced by the doctor’s notes, Dr. Kantar worried that Stepakoff would not make it through the weekend and called an emergency meeting with Stepakoff and separately with the covering psychiatrist to discuss the need for involuntary hospitalization. Stepakoff assured both psychiatrists that he did not intend to commit suicide; however, Stepakoff committed suicide shortly after making those assurances. Stepakoff’s widow (plaintiff) sued Dr. Kantar in state district court for wrongful death, alleging that although he knew or should have known that Stepakoff was suicidal, Dr. Kantar negligently failed to prevent Stepakoff from committing suicide by having him involuntarily hospitalized. After hearing from two psychiatrists whose opinions differed on whether Dr. Kantar’s treatment of Stepakoff conformed with good medical practice and having been instructed regarding Dr. Kantar’s general malpractice duty, a jury found in favor of Dr. Kantar. Stepakoff’s widow appealed, arguing that the judge failed to instruct the jury on negligence. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts transferred the appeal on its own motion.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (O’Connor, J.)

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