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Today we were arguing about induction of suicide, the theme was the following: if you pretend to commit suicide and your girlfriend\boyfriend didn't know it was fake and consequently commits suicide themselves, are you liable for any legal penalties?

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  • (1) Specify a jurisdiction. (2) Did you fake the suicide intending that it should drive the boyfriend to suicide? If not, what was your intention? (3) Did you know, or should you have known, that there was a risk your fake suicide would result in the the boyfriend's death? – Nate Eldredge Apr 8 '17 at 18:40
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    Something tells me that the jurisdiction was Italy, that the suicide was not faked with an intent to drive the boyfriend to suicide, and that it could very well have been negligent to overlook the impact that it might have on the boyfriend (whose name might just start with an "R"), but that the folks who facilitated the fake suicide ought to bear some of the blame too and that what you should have known in the throes of young love might be different than what an ordinary person should know. But, the questions do have answers and deserve them. – ohwilleke Apr 8 '17 at 20:55
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Generally speaking, taking an action which causes someone to commit suicide does not give rise to civil or criminal liability unless it was intended to cause someone's death.

For example, in Colorado, "a person commits manslaughter if: . . . (b) such person intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide." Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-104(1) (in the pertinent part). The same statute has an exception for palliative care and for assisted suicide in circumstances where it is authorized by a citizen enacted statute. Ordinarily, manslaughter would involve merely recklessly causing the death of another.

There is generally no criminal liability for recklessly or negligently causing a suicide, nor is there civil liability for doing so, although in a civil lawsuit, one can be sued for "intentional infliction of emotional distress" that is so extreme as to go beyond the bounds of human decency even if the tortfeasor does not personally inflict any physical harm upon the distressed person.

There can be civil liability for emotional distress that a person suffers as a result of a tortfeasor's negligence as well, but that is generally possible only in circumstances where the emotional distress is a side effect of a personal physical injury.

So, Juliet would probably not face either criminal or civil liability for the death of Romeo caused by his discovery of her fake suicide, not that it matters, because she punishes herself far more severely anyway.

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  • Couldn't civil liability for "wrongful death" apply to the scenario? – feetwet Apr 9 '17 at 23:37
  • @feetwet Wrongful death liability only exists when you actually physically cause the death through negligence or worse, not when you cause someone else to suffer emotional distress and that in turn leads to their death. – ohwilleke Apr 9 '17 at 23:41
  • Since the (greatest) victim of the "infliction of emotional distress" in this scenario is now dead (by suicide), does his estate have standing to make a civil claim for that tort on his behalf? – feetwet Apr 9 '17 at 23:50
  • @feetwet Answer varies. The tort claims of a decedent didn't survive death at common law, but many jurisdictions reformed that rule. Wrongful death claims are generally a creature of statute and don't belong to the estate as they would if they survived death. – ohwilleke Apr 10 '17 at 0:31

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