Medical malpractice is one of the many potential causes of wrongful death, and both may be alleged in the same lawsuit. Wrongful death has many causes as well– but when it is the result of medical malpractice– special rules apply to the lawsuit. To avoid pitfalls, it is important to entrust a seasoned Los Angeles wrongful death attorney with your case.
What is wrongful death?
When someone dies because of someone’s reckless or negligent action– it may be classified as a wrongful death.
Essentially, it is based on the breach of a duty of care owed to the victim by the responsible party. The duty owed depends on the circumstances. For example,
- Motorists have a duty to follow traffic laws and operate their vehicles in a reasonable manner
- Property owners, including stores and other businesses, have a duty to maintain their premises in a safe condition or warn those who enter the property of dangerous conditions
- Medical professionals have a duty to meet the professional standard of care for their area
If someone (an individual, a business, or even a government entity) breaches a duty and that breach causes a death, it can be categorized as wrongful death. This can be the result of:
- Medical malpractice
- Traffic accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Property defects
- Assault and battery
- Workplace accidents
- Participation in recreational activities
- Defective products
- Aggressive animals
Each situation is unique. It takes a knowledgeable legal professional to spot liability and to craft a successful strategy.
What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice is professional negligence by a healthcare professional. Doctors, nurses, hospitals, practice groups, and other medical professionals can be liable when their negligence harms patients through action or inaction.
Common forms of malpractice include:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Surgical errors
- Medication errors
- Birth injuries
- Nursing home neglect or abuse
- Unsanitary conditions
- Poor patient care
- Lack of consent
When medical malpractice causes a non-fatal injury, the victim can file a personal injury lawsuit. When it results in death, the surviving family members may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit that also includes a claim for medical malpractice.
What makes a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit different?
Each type of wrongful death case must be filed according to state-specific procedures. However, the procedures for medical malpractice lawsuits are not always the same as for other wrongful death cases. The differences include:
- Rights and claimants involved – A malpractice claim represents the injured party’s losses. However, when the injured party is deceased, their estate can pursue that claim on their behalf. Wrongful death lawsuits assert the losses of the family. State laws determine who may file wrongful death claims — usually the deceased person’s estate, but also certain surviving family members.
- Statutes of limitations – The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is not always the same as a medical malpractice claim. In some states, a wrongful death has a longer deadline, and in others, medical malpractice does. For example, in California, wrongful death has a two-year statute of limitations while a medical malpractice claim must be filed within three years from the date of injury (or one year from the date of the discovery of the injury).
- Special filing prerequisites – State legislatures adopt special rules for medical malpractice lawsuits. For example, in California, a plaintiff must provide the intended defendant with a notice of a claim at least 90 days before filing a lawsuit. In some other states, a plaintiff must file an affidavit of merit with the court complaint to show that an expert has reviewed the case and found evidence of malpractice.
- Expert testimony – Wrongful death cases often require the testimony of expert witnesses– to show how the injuries sustained caused the death. In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must also hire a medical expert to explain what the medical provider should have done and why their actions amounted to malpractice.
- Damages – State laws determine what losses can be compensated in a lawsuit. In California, a medical malpractice lawsuit can include pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages, but non-economic losses are capped at $250,000. These do not apply to wrongful death claims.
Understand your options to file a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit can provide much-needed financial reimbursement and emotional closure to those who have lost a loved one to medical malpractice. A successful legal strategy depends on a thorough understanding of state laws and local procedures.
If you have lost a loved one because of medical malpractice, schedule a free case review with a wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles. We are here to fight for maximum compensation on your behalf.