Court holds synthetic marijuana manufacturer cannot be held accountable for user's suicide
The Estate of John Anthony Sdao sued Makki & Abdallah Investments and others, arguing that the consumption of synthetic marijuana had poisoned the decedent and resulted in his death by suicide. They presented an expert in forensic psychiatry to support their claim; he testified that small amounts of psychoactive drug can drastically impact behavior. The defendant SARA Corporation argued that consumption of the drug was not causally related to Sdao's suicide and presented the testimony of forensic pathologist Warren Spitz in support of it's defense. The trial judge summarily dismissed the family's negligence and warranty claims, but allowed it's consumer protection claim to go to the jury. The jury held that the company had violated Michigan's Consumer Protection Act, but that it didn't cause Sdao's death. The family appealed.
The high court affirmed the jury verdict. Two of the three appellate judges rejected the family's argument that the judge should not have granted summary disposition on the negligence theories. They held that the Corporation "could not reasonably have foreseen" that its product could increase the risk of suicide. The appeals court also rejected the family's argument that the jury should not have heard the voir dire questions directed to the expert's qualifications. The higher court pointed out that since Spitz was ultimately allowed to offer his opinion testimony, his answers to the voir dire questioning were relevant to the weight to be given to his opinions.
One judge disagreed with the lower court's decision to summarily dismiss the negligence theories, pointing out that the ultimate decision about legal causation is usually a fact question for jurors to decide. Nevertheless, since the jurors ultimately concluded that violation of the CPA did not "cause" the death, it appeared to be a moot question whether negligence caused it.