Stepfather says suicide breaks the chain of causation

David Yates May 11, 2010, 10:00am


Four years ago, George Harris' 15-year-old daughter committed suicide with the pistol her stepfather kept at the top of his closet.

In May 2008, Harris, representing the estate of Alyssa Harris, filed suit against William B. Fratus in the Jefferson County District Court, alleging Alyssa's death was "negligently" caused on July 14, 2006, by a "dangerous condition" at Fratus' Beaumont home.

On April 5, Fratus filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that "the general rule in Texas is that suicide is an intervening cause which breaks the chain of causation."

In his suit, Harris alleges Fratus "was negligent for storing an unloaded pistol" in his top closet – a preventable dangerous condition which he alleges led to his daughter's death.

He claims he is entitled to recover punitive and exemplary damages from Fratus as a means to punish him for acting with a blatant disregard for the welfare and safety of his daughter.

In his motion for summary judgment, Fratus argues the law only makes exceptions on suicide if the decedent was mentally ill, or if the alleged liability is based upon a specific duty of care, such as a duty owed by a hospital.

"The autopsy report ... shows that the cause of death was suicide," the motion states. "As a matter of law, Fratus is not liable for the death of Alyssa Harris. Her suicide was an intervening cause which breaks causation. Also, there is no evidence of negligence."

Alyssa's father lived in Silsbee while her mother lived in Beaumont with Fratus, according to the obituary found on the Hardin County News website.

Harris is also suing for past and future loss of companionship, mental anguish, and pecuniary loss.

He is represented by Christopher Kirchmer of the Provost Umphrey firm in Beaumont.

Fratus is represented by David Oubre, attorney for the Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith law firm in Houston.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd Judicial District, has slated a hearing on the matter for May 21.

Case No. E181-763

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