Not sure what a wrongful death lawsuit looks like? Here’s a telling story…
Chesta Shoemaker, a registered nurse with a kidney infection was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her progress became promising, but then things took a turn for the worse. While trying to place a central line, the doctor inadvertently punctured her carotid artery. It cut off the blood circulation to the patient’s brain. The RN who was set to be discharged soon, died at the expense of a medical error.
But wait. Some clarification first. The doctor wasn’t as experienced as the patient and her family were led to believe. In fact, the doctor was in Vanderbilt’s residency program at the time.
And what’s more? She was unsupervised. This is just one example of what a wrongful death may look like. Keep reading to learn more important information, especially if you think your loved one was a victim.
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Wrongful Death Stats
You may think wrongful deaths are rare. Unfortunately, they happen far too much. In fact, a Johns Hopkins study suggests medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death in the United States. We’ll give you a minute to take that in.
If a patient’s death is the cause of medical malpractice, family members are able to bring a wrongful death claim against the medical facility. A claim can help the grieving family receive compensation for their loss. It also holds the negligent party accountable.
In Chesta’s case, death came too soon. She unnecessarily died because a medical facility allowed a resident to operate without supervision. The patient’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the family.
Do you believe a loved one’s death was a direct result of medical malpractice?
Can You Really Sue A Hospital?
The short answer? Yes.
Suing a hospital or doctor can be tricky business. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced wrongful death attorney. Filing a claim against a hospital or doctor is not only possible but necessary. Doing so can help prevent unnecessary injuries to others.
So when is a hospital liable for wrongful death?
- If the hospital’s own practices and/or actions directly cause a death
- For example:
- Not keeping facilities properly cleaned and sanitized
- Hiring incompetent staff members or medical providers who aren’t properly licensed
- Not following proper patient safety
- For example:
- If a nurse, technician, or other staff member directly employed by the hospital negligently causes a death
- For example:
- Surgical errors
- Drug administration or prescription errors
- Labor and delivery errors
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
- For example:
In other words, hospitals are liable for the negligence of their staff members. for example:
- giving medicine at an incorrect time
- failure to adequately check a patient’s vital signs
- neglecting to examine a patient for bed sores
- failing to notify the treating physician of any suspicious symptoms or concerns.
- failure to put the patient’s nursing record correctly into the patient’s chart
- providing the incorrect dosage or type of medicines
Remember the story of the RN at Vanderbilt? Notice the family didn’t file a claim against the resident. That’s because the resident was employed by Vanderbilt.
And so it’s Vanderbilt that faces the repercussions. But if the doctor made the mistake, the wrongful death lawsuit likely would have been against them. More on that in the section below!
When Doctors Are Independent Contractors
Many doctors use hospital facilities to see patients and perform surgeries. But they’re not technically employees of the hospital. They’re simply independent contractors. In most cases, hospitals can’t be sued for the negligence of a non-employed doctor. But like with most things, there are fine lines. And that’s where the expertise of a lawyer comes into action. An experienced attorney can help determine which entity to sue and ultimately who’s liable for damages.
If a hospital is aware the doctor on staff is incompetent, and their negligence causes a wrongful death, the hospital can be sued.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against A Hospital?
A wrongful death lawsuit is usually brought forth by an immediate family member. Typically this is a spouse, adult child, or parent. The person filing the claim is doing so on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
What does that mean? If the patient could have filed a medical malpractice claim had they lived, their estate can sue for the same exact damages. Families can seek compensation for:
- Medical bills and expenses
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost wages or income
- Loss of support
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of guidance
Navigating Through A Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If you believe a family member died because of negligence, you need to be able to determine the death was wrongful. What does that mean?
If the deceased passed away because of his/her own conditions while the hospital and medical staff did everything correctly, it is not considered a wrongful death.
If the deceased passed away because they didn’t follow after-care protocols administered by the doctor, it is not considered a wrongful death.
However, if the death could have been prevented by doctors, and they instead acted negligently, you have a case for a wrongful death lawsuit. So what do you need to do?
Prepare. Gather all your documents and evidence. Your case needs to clearly prove negligence occurred and is the reason for the death. What sort of documents?
- Medical records including any x-rays, scans, etc.
- Any form of communication between you (or the decedent) and medical providers
- Any medical bills or receipts
Contact a lawyer. Proving wrongful death by a hospital is no easy task. You’ll want to seek the help of a skilled attorney who has experience handling these types of cases.
Act fast. Most medical malpractice cases have a statute of limitations. A wrongful death lawsuit is no different. You have 2 years to file your claim. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine when the clock starts running. An attorney can help understand the timeline.
Proving Medical Negligence
If you’ve got your documents ready and your evidence in hand, go through this list. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the evidence must show:
- Duty. The medical provider/hospital had a duty to provide the patient with proper medical care.
- Breach of duty. Doctors and medical professionals have a standard of care they must follow. If that duty or standard of care was not obliged by, there was a breach of duty,
- Causation. The actions of the hospital/doctor directly caused fatal injury to the patient.
- Damages. The patient suffered damages. Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit include loss of companionship, lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more.
If you believe a loved one was the victim of a wrongful death, you and your family may qualify for compensation. We’re experienced in wrongful death lawsuits. We can help determine whether your case may qualify for a lawsuit. Contact us today.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit Quick Answers
What is the definition of wrongful death?
Wrongful death occurs when someone dies due to the negligence or misbehavior of another person or entity. A criminal prosecution may be pursued in connection with the death, but a wrongful death lawsuit is actually a civil action. So it is completely separate from any criminal proceedings.
Who is eligible to file a claim for wrongful death?
Wrongful death claims are brought by the grieving family’s closest members on behalf of their loved ones, which is frequently a partner, brother or sister, or son or daughter.
How difficult is it to establish wrongful death?
Demonstrating that the Defendant’s negligence led to the death is frequently the hardest requirement to establish. In most states, a jury must decide whether the defendant was negligent based on the evidence at hand.
When Can a Hospital Be Made Accountable for a Death Caused by Negligence?
A hospital can be held responsible for a patient’s death in a variety of ways. The following are the two most typical:
- The hospital’s carelessness in terms of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers
- The hospital’s own incompetence in terms of administering and overseeing medical services, hiring and supervising staff, repairing and maintaining equipment, etc.
What happens if family members cannot agree on who will file the case?
Usually there aren’t family disputes over who will act on behalf of the deceased. If the dispute can’t be settled among the survivors, it will have to be resolved by the courts. The court will take many factors into account and then appoint a representative of the decedent’s estate. That representative will be the only one allowed to file the claim.
What if the deceased left behind no immediate survivors?
The court will typically appoint the closest relatives to become the estate representative.
What is the average compensation for wrongful death?
The average payment in a wrongful death claim in the United States is between $500,000 and $1 million. A medical malpractice settlement’s median value is $250,000.
And in malpractice cases where the plaintiff wins, the average jury verdict is just over $1 million. Your wrongful death settlement can easily be less or more than the average.
How much can I expect in damages?
The answer is very case-specific. Many factors go into determining the final monetary amount. An experienced attorney can help you come up with an estimated value.
How long does it take to be compensated for a wrongful death lawsuit?
There is no set standard of time for determining the timeline of any medical malpractice case. It could take months, or sometimes even years to reach a settlement.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, what damages are awarded?
In a wrongful death suit, damages (categories of losses for which a survivor may be compensated) include:
- the expense of medical treatment that the deceased victim incurred before death as a result of the incident
- costs of a funeral and burial
- loss of the deceased individual’s anticipated income
- deprivation of companionship and affection
- consortium loss
- the deprivation of the deceased’s care, direction, and nurturing
- pre-death “pain and suffering” of the departed (this is often called a “survival” claim).
- inheritance lost because of the death
- the quality of the services that the deceased would have given
Can a girlfriend or boyfriend to sue for wrongful death?
Unwed partners can sue (through the estate of the deceased) for wrongful death. In Texas, you can file a wrongful death action within two years of the deceased’s death, at least in most cases.