Medical malpractice that results in wrongful death affects as many as 98,000 Americans every year, according to reports compiled by the Institute of Medicine. The remarkable and sad fact about this issue is that these untimely deaths were from preventable medical errors. Negligence, inexperience, mistakes and omissions in the expected standard of care can have devastating results for patients and their families.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is defined by each state, but it usually refers to any death that occurs due to the willful or negligent act of another person. These laws were designed to provide for financial support of widows and orphans and to encourage diligent care by others. It is not a criminal charge, but a particular case may also be taken to criminal court, depending upon the circumstances of the accident, and if there was any malicious intent to cause harm. The states set limits, if any, that apply to awards for a wrongful death claim. Statutes of limitation for prosecution may also differ by jurisdiction.
A wrongful death can occur in many ways, including accidents or during the course of medical care. Accident cases that result in a wrongful death claim often include vehicle accidents such as those that result from distracted driving, driving while texting, driving while fatigued, driver errors or deliberate violation of laws. Accidental deaths can happen at work, at play, in a medical facility or at home. Many wrongful death cases evolve from poor medical care or mistakes.
Wrongful Death Medical Malpractice Cases
Medical accidents are often the reason for a patient death. There could be a mistaken diagnosis, inadequate care, pharmaceutical errors, bad drugs, equipment or medical device failures or any of a number of other causes for a patient death. In each case, the wrongful death attorney must investigate all potential causes and determine who or what company is liable for the death.
Negligence and causation are the two primary factors that can make a winning case. Persons who are eligible to sue for wrongful death include the immediate family members, life partners, distant family members, parents of a deceased infant and others who were financially dependent upon the decedent. Some typical claims include: mismanagement of anesthesia, failure to diagnose, equipment defect (like some hip replacement failures), breached standard of care, inexperienced performance, emergency room negligence, infant death and incorrect medication.
Another factor that is given careful consideration during a wrongful death case is if the reasonable and expected standard of care was given to the patient who died. This is where inexperience, mistakes, misdiagnosis, omissions and negligent behavior will be viewed as a cause of the ultimate death of a patient under medical care. When a patient is accidentally given a drug they are allergic to that results in death, the caretaker could be held responsible because they did not read patient records that showed an allergy to that drug. If a doctor does not properly diagnose a condition, and that condition later caused death of the patient, that doctor may be held liable for the wrongful death. It is expected that medical personnel are fully trained and competent to provide excellent care and to avoid mistakes that could cause death.
Injuries that could result in wrongful death include organ failure, brain damage, removal of incorrect organ, adverse drug reactions, blows to the head or spine, botched biopsy and failure to treat a life-threatening event. The unexpected death will cause sudden problems for the family of the deceased, such as expenses for the funeral and burial, financial decisions, mourning and grief. When inadequate medical care is provided and a patient dies, there is pain and suffering of that patient as well as the painful impact upon family members. A wrongful death attorney can bring in expert witnesses to calculate the amount of pain and suffering the decedent may have had prior to death.
Determining Responsibility for Wrongful Death
Determining who is ultimately responsible for a wrongful death can be a long and complex process. It is best to have an experienced wrongful death attorney handle this investigation. When there is a product defect, such as a failed medical device like a hip joint or heart valve that later caused death of the patient, there may be multiple responsible parties to include in a lawsuit. Accident reports, photographs and witness testimony contribute to determining responsibility and negligent behavior when someone is killed in a vehicle crash. A medical case history might involve many participants who cared for the decedent; this also requires careful investigation to determine responsibility for wrongful death.The best chance for financial recovery after a wrongful death is to contact a wrongful death attorney immediately. There is no way to bring back the dead, but there are legal procedures that can help their survivors recover financially, especially when negligent behavior caused the untimely death.