What Differentiates Wrongful Death From Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?
Published on August 21, 2023
The unexpected loss of a loved one is traumatic and confusing. If your family member died due to a medical provider’s mistake, you might wonder where to turn. Should you file a wrongful death lawsuit, or is your claim a medical malpractice case? What’s the difference, and which one benefits survivors more?
Even though some medical malpractice cases result in the tragic death of a patient, medical malpractice claims and wrongful death claims are two different legal matters with different aspects to consider.
When is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Appropriate?
Medical providers owe a special duty of care toward their patients. Once a doctor/patient relationship exists, the medical provider must treat that patient at the medical community’s accepted level of care. If they breach this duty, it’s an act of negligence. When a patient is harmed directly due to the medical provider’s negligence, the provider or the medical facility itself is responsible for damages. Compensation for the patient’s damages typically comes from the provider’s medical malpractice insurance.
When you or a loved one suffers direct harm from medical malpractice, you deserve compensation. Some examples of medical malpractice commonly cited in claims and lawsuits include:
Wrong-site/wrong side/wrong patient surgeries
Failure to follow up
Failure to give proper post-op or discharge instructions
Failure to obtain informed consent
These and other types of medical mistakes resulting in injury to the patient are common claims in medical malpractice lawsuits. Compensation can’t undo the injury, but it can help the injury victim by easing financial burdens related to the injury, opening doors to the best medical care, and helping them achieve a sense of justice. Common damages awarded in medical malpractice cases include:
Medical expenses and future medical expenses
Lost wages and future lost wages if the injury requires additional medical treatment
Diminished earning capacity if the injury caused debilitation
Pain and suffering
In some cases, additional non-economic damages might apply such as disfigurement, loss of limb, lowered quality of life, and emotional trauma
When a doctor’s negligence or an administrative mistake in a medical establishment causes an injury, the injured victim can file a malpractice claim for damages. In some cases, the claim proceeds to a lawsuit in court if the malpractice insurance company fails to offer an acceptable amount of compensation or denies the claim.
When Does a Medical Malpractice Claim Become a Wrongful Death Claim?
If a medical provider’s negligence results in severe injury to the patient who dies as a direct result of the medical error, then the victim’s close family members can choose to file a wrongful death claim. When the injury victim was a provider in a household, the grief the family feels is compounded by the undue financial burdens caused by the loss of a provider in the home. A spouse, adult child, or parent of the deceased individual can file this type of claim, or they can choose a family representative to file the claim. While medical malpractice claims only apply to injuries due to a medical provider’s negligence, a wrongful death claim is also appropriate for deaths caused by other forms of negligence including:
Car, truck, motorcycle, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents
Defective product injuries
Premises accidents such as slip-and-fall injuries or dog attacks
In medical malpractice cases that directly result in death, the family members deserve compensation for their damages. Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are significantly different than those in medical malpractice claims such as:
Medical expenses if the deceased family member (decedent) required additional medical treatment before they died due to the malpractice
Funeral and burial costs
Lost wages in the approximate amount the decedent would have earned during the remainder of their working years
Loss of benefits, such as health insurance and pension plan
Grief and emotional anguish
Loss of companionship and loving support (loss of consortium)
Loss of household services
When a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, paramedic, or member of medical staff acts negligently and fails to treat a patient at the industry-accepted level of care the way a reasonable medical provider would have in the same circumstances, they are liable for damages in a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims are an appropriate option if the deceased person could have filed a personal injury claim or medical malpractice injury claim had they survived the injury.
Successful wrongful death claims can help the loved ones of a family member injured by a medical mistake to achieve a sense of justice as well as financial compensation.
The Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Medical Malpractice Claims
In some states, the amount of time a victim or family member has in which to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice or wrongful death might be different. In Arizona, the statute of limitations for both wrongful death claims and medical malpractice cases is the same. Victims or their surviving family members have 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. In most cases, the claim settles out of court through an attorney’s negotiations with the insurance company of the at-fault party. Only if the insurance company doesn’t offer an ample settlement does the case proceed to a lawsuit, but only if the plaintiff (injury victim or their family members) files the lawsuit within the state’s statute of limitations.
What to Do If You or a Loved One Were the Victim of Medical Malpractice Resulting in Injury or Death?
When a trusted medical professional causes harm due to negligence or a serious medical error, the victim or their surviving family members deserve compensation and justice. It may be difficult to keep a clear head when dealing with this type of trauma, but it’s important to protect your family’s future by obtaining a detailed copy of the medical report along with a report from another physician explaining the impacts of the negligence or medical error. Victims should also keep track of all medical expenses and related damages.
A Phoenix medical malpractice attorney with experience in wrongful death claims will investigate the circumstances of the injury, determine the liable party, and calculate damages to maximize your compensation.
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