Officer Daniel Cucchi of the Coral Springs Police Department. Courtesy photo.

A medical malpractice suit brought against Dr. Tanveer Sobhan and University Hospital in Tamarac by the wife and sons of Detective Daniel J. Cucchi alleges medical personnel could have prevented the policeman’s suicide.

The suit alleges a lack of medical care and attention following Cucchi’s suicide attempt failed to prevent him from trying to kill himself a second time — and this time, succeeding.

A jury trial awaits as the parties begin the discovery process.

Cucchi’s wife, Lisa Ann, filed an amended complaint March 20, arguing that her husband’s death was “preventable,” and that medical staff discharged him from the hospital too early and without a proper evaluation.

At the time of his death, Cucchi was a detective at the Coral Springs Police Department. A decorated police officer with a 29-year career, he’d been struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After working on a “serious and multi-year cold case,” he suffered from PTSD symptoms and nightmares, and wrote a letter of resignation in August 2015, according to the complaint.

“I am convinced that I can no longer fulfill the requirements of my position in a satisfactory manner that I am accustomed to,” the letter stated.

Plaintiffs counsel Scott Mager and Yonathan Nathanson of Mager Paruas in Fort Lauderdale, say they see this case as pivotal in spotlighting the danger of PTSD to law enforcement officers, who deal with violent crimes as part of their daily job functions.

Scott Mager of Mager Paruas in Hollywood. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM

“It calls attention not only to the facility and to the recklessness of the doctors, but to the sensitivity that we have to have, especially with police officers and other first responders,” Mager said.

Though doctors are not responsible for patients’ death by law, the suit alleges that both the physician and hospital had a duty to pay greater attention to Cucchi’s symptoms. The complaint alleges the defendants failed to conform to the proper standards of care by letting Cucchi, who had access to his gun, leave their care when he was in poor mental health.

“It’s very clear that Daniel had PTSD symptoms and major depressive disorders,” Nathanson said.

The complaint references statistics from the National Institute of Justice, which label suicide as the most common cause of death for police officers.

Cucchi’s wife and son found him on Sept. 9, 2015, after his first suicide attempt. It was one day after he’d discovered his dog had died from accidental asphyxiation. Next to him was a partially written suicide note and an empty bottle of Xanax, a prescription medication used to treat anxiety and panic disorder.

Cucchi was taken to University Hospital, where he was diagnosed with “suicide attempt and suicidal overdose.” He regained consciousness the next day and was held involuntarily under the Baker Act, which provides emergency services for mental health care.

“Cucchi wakes up, and he’s distressed that he’s actually alive,” Mager said.

But it took days for a psychiatrist to visit him, and defendant Sobhan eventually recommended sending Cucchi to University Pavilion, a care facility roughly 55 yards from the hospital, according to the complaint. Cucchi objected to going to the Pavillion, fearing he might run into patients he’d sent there as a police officer.

“Without any real evaluation, the doctor just essentially allows him to go home,” Mager said.

“Don’t make me regret this,” Sobhan is alleged to have said to Cucchi before discharging him. The following day, Cucchi parked outside the psychiatric facility and shot himself in the chest.

Dr. Jeffrey Danziger, a Maitland psychiatrist serving as an expert witness for the plaintiff, said determining whether an individual is a danger to themselves or others is an agonizing and multifaceted decision.

“How do you balance the right of someone to be free, versus the interest of harming someone or someone else?” Danziger asked. “It’s a tug of war between civil liberties versus a desire to protect people who are mentally ill and unable to protect themselves.”

Mager argues that in this case the risk was too great with Cucchi, and the hospital should have recognized that. He also said Cucchi’s son later attempted suicide to be with his dad. The son is now institutionalized.

Avery A. Dial of Fowler White Burnett who represents the doctor, Sobhan, declined to comment on the ongoing case. Their July 6 answer to the complaint denied any wrongdoing.

Counsel to University Hospital & Medical Center Robert Paradela and Theresa Christine Perez of Wicker Smith‘s Fort Lauderdale office did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. They have yet to file a response.

 

Read Sobhan’s answer to the complaint: