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Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice: What You Need to Know

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

In the aftermath of a wrongful death case, the loved ones of the deceased are grieving and may be faced with serious financial burdens from funeral expenses and potentially lost income. However, families don’t need to feel helpless, as seeking compensation for wrongful death can help to bring the victim justice and provide financial support to those left in the wake of the tragedy. When a patient dies as a result of medical malpractice, also known as medical negligence, a family member may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor(s) or hospital involved. In the piece below, the medical malpractice case lawyers at Peter Angelos Law outline and explain all you need to know about the wrongful death suit process.

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence occurs when a doctor or other health care professional fails to provide the expected type and level of care to a patient that a prudent, similarly-skilled, and educated professional would have provided under similar circumstances. Medical negligence can arise in many different situations, including a failure to diagnose a harmful condition, a failure to properly advise a patient of the risks involved in certain procedures or treatments, and making unacceptable errors during the course of treatment. Medical malpractice law often hinges on the following questions:

  • What was the appropriate medical standard of care for the situation?
  • Did the defendant adhere to or deviate from that standard?

Providing concrete evidence to answer these two questions will ensure that a doctor or health care professional is held accountable in a court of law. Since the evidence needed is extensive and requires thorough research, it’s vital to find an attorney who is an expert in medical malpractice suits.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death case arises when a patient dies as a result of medical malpractice. Most wrongful death lawsuits follow in the wake of criminal trials, using similar evidence but with a lower standard of proof. Either way, a person found liable for wrongful death may or may not be convicted of a crime associated with the death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The person who will file the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased plaintiff will often be the closest surviving relative of the plaintiff. This person will typically be a spouse, child, or parent, and will also usually be the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate. However, exactly who those survivors can vary by state. In all states, a spouse may bring a wrongful death action on behalf of their deceased spouse, and parents of minors can as well if one of their children passes away. There are discrepancies between states in cases where parents of adult children sue or adult children sue on behalf of a parent. There are also discrepancies when considering whether adult siblings can sue for wrongful death, or whether more distant relatives such as cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents can sue. If you are not the spouse or the parent of a minor who is deceased, discuss your circumstances with an attorney for clarity regarding whether your claim is possible.

What Elements Are Part of a Wrongful Death Case?

To bring a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the following elements must be present:

  • Negligence – the death must have been the result of another’s negligence, or intent to cause harm
  • Death – A wrongful death lawsuit differs from a personal injury lawsuit in that the plaintiff must have died
  • Causation – Negligence must have been the cause or contributing cause of the victim’s death
  • Damages – The surviving loved ones must be looking to recover damages of some kind.

In addition to these four primary elements, there might be other additional elements involved depending on your case and goals for litigation. Your attorney will be able to assist you in identifying any other elements you might need to include.

When Does a Wrongful Death Claim Apply?

A wrongful death claim applies in situations where a victim who would otherwise have a valid personal injury claim died as a result of the defendant’s wrongful action. In malpractice cases, wrongful death cases typically apply in situations where a doctor failed to diagnose a condition, or the doctor was careless in the level or type of care provided, and a patient dies as a result.

Who Can Be Liable in a Wrongful Death Claim?

In wrongful death lawsuits, doctors and hospitals can be liable.

To prove a doctor liable, you will need to first prove that the deceased plaintiff’s health care professional was negligent in some way. This is usually done by having an expert in the same field of medicine testify what the proper medical standard of care was and how the provider’s actions compared to that standard. Then, you will need to prove that the provider’s actions not only did not live up to the expected standard of care but that the decedent’s death occurred because of the sub-standard decisions or actions. Finally, you will need to establish your damages, as well as the decedent’s damages. In this stage, a monetary value is placed on what the immediate family members have lost as a result of the plaintiff’s death. This can include not only the decedent’s salary but also less concrete damages, such as “loss of consortium”—or pain and suffering—resulting from the loss. Review the section below on damages, and consult with a lawyer about the types of damages you could potentially recover.

In some cases, the hospital is liable in addition to or in place of the doctor. The two most common ways hospitals are liable for are:

  • The negligence of physicians, nurses, and other health care providers who are employed by the hospital, and
  • The hospital’s own negligence in hiring and supervising its employees, maintaining and repairing its equipment, and managing and overseeing the medical care at the hospital. While you can often sue both the hospital and the doctor, your attorney will be able to advise on whether it’s more effective to bring lawsuits against both parties or just one.

What Must Be Proven?

For either the doctor, the hospital, or both to be found liable, the plaintiff in the claim must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet if they had lived. In medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff must provide negligence on behalf of the doctor and/or hospital, which requires them to prove the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, that the defendant breached the duty, that the breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the death, and that the death caused the damages the plaintiff is looking to recover. While this may seem daunting, an attorney will be able to assist you in collecting and presenting the necessary evidence.

What Types of Damages Are in Wrongful Death Claims?

The types of damages in wrongful death claims can vary greatly depending on the situation. These types of damages can also vary greatly from state to state, so it’s important to contact a medical malpractice lawyer to determine which types of damages you might be eligible to pursue. Plaintiffs can recover any combination of the following damages in a wrongful death claim:

  • The deceased person’s pre-death pain and suffering
  • The medical treatment costs incurred by the deceased victim as a result of the injury prior to death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of the decedent’s expected income
  • Loss of any inheritance as a result of death
  • Value of the services the deceased would have provided
  • Loss of consortium

Contact Peter Angelos Law to Schedule a Consultation

The loss of a loved one is always difficult, even before legal proceedings begin. The medical malpractice and wrongful death claim process can be an involved, overwhelming, and difficult one, which is why you need a team of dedicated medical malpractice professionals like ours on your side. We’re ready to help you build your case and receive the compensation you deserve. For more information, or to begin your claim, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Peter Angelos Law today.