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Keywords:

  • forensic science;
  • forensic psychiatry;
  • psychiatrist's responsibility;
  • suicide;
  • antidepressant medications;
  • prevention

Abstract

The aim of the study is to analyze the factors that are most frequently associated with a verdict of guilty delivered to the psychiatrist in cases of a patient's suicide in Italian law. Twenty-six sentences (1975–2009) were analyzed according to the claim of malpractice, patient characteristics, circumstances of the suicide, and reasons for the court's judgment. The court held the psychiatrist guilty in 12 cases, considering that the act of suicide was predictable and could have been avoided. Predictability was mainly related to errors in surveillance (7 cases), therapy (1 case), or both (2 cases). An error in diagnosis was considered to be related to the patient's death in two cases. Analysis of medical behavior considered to be erroneous and associated with a verdict of guilty provides an opportunity to discuss the topics relevant not only to practicing psychiatrists but also to experts assessing medical liability in cases of patient suicide.