Wrongful Death Claims in Medical Malpractice Cases
April 25, 2023 by GKwriter
Losing a loved one is a devastating experience. When the negligence of a medical professional causes their death, the emotional turmoil can be overwhelming. During this difficult time, you may feel a mix of grief, confusion, and anger, wondering how to navigate the complex process of seeking justice for your loved one. Knowing that you don’t have to face this challenging situation alone is important.
Let us explore valuable information about wrongful death claims in medical malpractice cases, the essential elements of a claim, the damages you may be entitled to, and the importance of working with a skilled medical malpractice lawyer to empower you to make informed decisions as you seek justice and healing.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim in a medical malpractice case occurs when a healthcare professional’s negligence leads to a patient’s death. Examples of wrongful death causes include surgical errors, medication mistakes, or misdiagnoses.
Surgical errors can be one of the leading causes of wrongful death in medical malpractice cases. For instance, consider a situation where a surgeon inadvertently damages a vital organ during a routine operation, leading to severe complications and, ultimately, the patient’s death. Another example could be a surgical team leaving a foreign object inside the patient’s body, like a sponge or a surgical instrument, resulting in a severe infection and fatal consequences. In both cases, the medical professional’s negligence directly contributed to the patient’s death, giving the family grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Medication mistakes are another common cause of wrongful death in medical malpractice cases. Imagine a scenario where a physician prescribes the wrong medication or an incorrect dosage to a patient with a known medical condition, causing a severe adverse reaction that leads to their death. Alternatively, a pharmacist could dispense a patient with the wrong medication or dosage, resulting in a fatal outcome. In these situations, the healthcare professional’s negligence in prescribing or dispensing the wrong medication has caused the patient’s death, and the family may have a valid wrongful death claim.
Misdiagnoses can also lead to wrongful death in medical malpractice cases. In some cases, a healthcare provider may fail to diagnose a serious medical condition, such as cancer, in a timely manner, causing the patient’s condition to worsen and eventually become untreatable. In other situations, a physician may diagnose a patient with the wrong condition and provide inappropriate treatment, which could have harmful or even deadly consequences. When misdiagnoses result in the patient’s death, the family may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim against the negligent medical professional.
While wrongful death and medical malpractice claims involve negligence, wrongful death claims focus on the damages the surviving family members suffered due to the patient’s death.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim in Medical Malpractice
To succeed in a wrongful death claim, you must prove several elements. First, the medical professional owed the patient a duty of care. Next, there was a breach of this duty, such as a surgeon making a mistake during surgery. The breach must have directly caused the patient’s death, and the surviving family members must have suffered damages, like financial losses or emotional pain.
In a wrongful death claim involving medical malpractice, it’s essential to establish each element with solid evidence and examples. For instance, let’s consider a scenario where a patient undergoes a routine surgical procedure. In this case, the surgeon and the medical staff owe the patient a duty of care, which involves providing a standard of care that a reasonably competent medical professional would provide under similar circumstances.
Next, the breach of this duty must be demonstrated. Imagine that the surgeon mistakenly cuts a blood vessel during the surgery, leading to excessive bleeding that goes unnoticed. This mistake would constitute a breach of duty, as a reasonably competent surgeon would not have made such an error. Alternatively, the medical staff’s failure to monitor the patient’s vital signs and detect the bleeding could also be considered a breach of duty.
It’s crucial to prove that the breach of duty directly caused the patient’s death in order to succeed in the wrongful death claim. In our example, the excessive bleeding caused by the surgeon’s mistake or the staff’s negligence led to the patient’s death, establishing the direct causation.
Lastly, the surviving family members must have suffered damages due to their loved one’s death. These damages could include financial losses, such as medical bills and funeral expenses, as well as non-economic damages, like emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and loss of future financial support. Demonstrating each of these elements with relevant examples and evidence will give you a stronger case for a wrongful death claim in a medical malpractice case.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
Typically, the deceased person’s closest relatives, such as a spouse, children, or parents, can file a wrongful death claim. If these primary claimants don’t exist, secondary claimants like siblings or other relatives may be eligible. In some cases, the personal representative or administrator of the deceased person’s estate may file the claim on behalf of the family.
There are several types of damages you can seek in a wrongful death claim. Economic damages include medical expenses, funeral costs, and lost wages. Non-economic damages cover pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and other emotional losses. In rare cases involving gross negligence or intentional misconduct, you may also seek punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer.
Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
In Virginia, you generally have two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death claim. However, certain exceptions to the statute of limitations may apply in specific cases. For example, suppose the deceased patient was a minor. In that case, the statute of limitations may be extended, allowing the family more time to file their claim. Another exception might involve the discovery rule, which allows the statute of limitations to begin from the date the wrongful act was discovered rather than the date of death. This exception typically applies when the family was unaware of the medical malpractice that caused their loved one’s death until a later time.
Given these complexities and the importance of adhering to the statute of limitations, consulting with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer is crucial as soon as possible. A lawyer will be able to evaluate your case, identify any exceptions that may apply, and guide you through the legal process to ensure you don’t miss the deadline and lose your right to pursue compensation. In such a challenging time, the support of a knowledgeable attorney can make all the difference in securing the justice your loved one deserves.
Proving Medical Malpractice in a Wrongful Death Claim
Proving medical malpractice in a wrongful death claim often requires expert witnesses who can testify about the standard of care that should have been provided. You’ll need evidence, such as medical records and witness statements, to support your case. Proving medical malpractice can be challenging, so having an experienced medical malpractice lawyer on your side is essential.
Medical malpractice lawyers can guide you through the complex process of pursuing a wrongful death claim. They’ll gather evidence, consult with experts, and negotiate with insurance companies to seek the compensation you deserve. Hiring a skilled medical malpractice lawyer can make all the difference in your case.
Contact Gore and Kuperman Today
Wrongful death claims in medical malpractice cases can help you seek justice for your loved one and obtain compensation for the damages you’ve suffered. Contact Gore and Kuperman for a consultation today to discuss your legal options and ensure you have the support you need during this challenging time.