Abolishing the Suicide Rule

59 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2019

See all articles by Alex B. Long

Alex B. Long

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: January 12, 2019


Suicide is increasingly recognized as a public health issue. There are over 40,000 suicides a year in the U.S., making suicide the tenth-leading cause of death in the country. But societal attitudes on the subject remain decidedly mixed. Suicide is often closely linked to mental illness, a condition that continues to involve stigma and often triggers irrational fears and misunderstanding. For many, suicide remains an immoral act that flies in the face of strongly held religious principles. In some ways, tort law’s treatment of suicide mirrors the conflicting societal views regarding suicide. Tort law has long been reluctant to permit recovery in a wrongful death action from a defendant who is alleged to have caused the suicide of the decedent. In many instances, courts apply a strict rule of causation in suicide cases that has actually been dubbed “the suicide rule” in one jurisdiction. While reluctance to assign liability to defendants whose actions are alleged to have resulted in suicide still remains the norm in negligence cases, there has been a slight trend among court decisions away from singling out suicide cases for special treatment and toward an analytical framework that more closely follows traditional tort law principles. This Article argues that this trend is to be encouraged and that it is time for courts to largely abandon the special rules that have developed in suicide cases that treat suicide as a superseding cause of a decedent’s death.

Keywords: Torts, Suicide, Health, History

JEL Classification: K00, K13,

Suggested Citation

Long, Alex B., Abolishing the Suicide Rule (January 12, 2019). Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 113, No. 4, 2019; University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 364. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3314719

Alex B. Long (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States

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