Wrongful Death of the Mother
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed November 30, 2018
If a mother dies during pregnancy or labor due to misconduct by a doctor or other medical professional, surviving family members - including the newborn -- may be able to bring a wrongful death suit to recover damages. The idea behind a wrongful death action is that surviving family members have been and will continue to be impacted emotionally, socially, and financially after the death, and that the courts must provide relief.
Family members may struggle to pick up the pieces after the loss of a mother. If there are young children, there may be psychological difficulties requiring therapy. The death of the mother may also reduce the combined income of the household and place a greater burden on other family members to work less so as to give more time to surviving children. A wrongful death action can be an invaluable tool to the survivors, providing financial compensation to make this difficult transition a bit easier.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Action
To bring a wrongful death claim for the death of a mother, the plaintiff must show the following elements:
- The mother died.
- The death was caused by another's negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct.
- The plaintiff has suffered financial losses as a result of the death.
Depending on the state, wrongful death actions may be limited to surviving immediate family members. In some states, however, extended family may bring a wrongful death action, and even unrelated persons who suffer monetary injury as well. Wrongful death actions can be brought in any number of possible situations, so long as the death was caused by negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. In the medical malpractice context, for example, a wrongful death action may arise when surgeons conducting a cesarean section on a woman with blood-clotting issues fail to assess the mother's medical history and take proper precautions. If the mother dies as a result of this failure, the surviving family will likely have a wrongful death claim.
Medical professionals aren't the only ones who can be held liable for a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, if a mother dies during childbirth, and the evidence shows that her death was caused by a defective medical device, the surviving family members could bring a wrongful death action against the company that designed, manufactured, or distributed the medical device, depending on the circumstances.
In rare cases, a medical professional's conduct during pregnancy or childbirth may actually constitute a criminal act. If a doctor is accused of having committed a criminal act, and the same doctor wins his or her defense, a surviving plaintiff may still bring a successful wrongful death action against the doctor. Criminal cases demand a higher standard of guilt - beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, civil cases, such as a wrongful death action, require only preponderance of the evidence -- more likely than not that the defendant caused the injury. As a result, it's possible that the defendant will win the criminal trial but lose the civil wrongful death action.
Damages for a Wrongful Death Action
If a wrongful death suit is successful, the surviving family members may be awarded compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses
- General pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Loss of companionship and support
Courts may also award punitive damages in extreme cases. Punitive damages are damages in excess of the actual losses the victim sustained. They're designed to punish, and therefore deter, particularly egregious behavior.
Statute of Limitations
If your mother, wife, daughter, or relative died during her pregnancy or childbirth as a result of medical negligence or a defective medical device, you shouldn't delay in bringing a wrongful death action. That's because a law known as a statute of limitations may limit the time you have to bring a suit. Frequently, the grieving process may distract and delay those with a live claim from bringing their claim. If you've discovered the cause of death, then you will have been deemed in many states to have satisfied the 'Discovery Rule,' and the statute of limitations clock will begin to tick. It's important that you contact a qualified wrongful death attorney as soon as possible so that your wrongful death claim is not barred by the statute of limitations.
Talk to an Attorney About Your Wrongful Death Claim
Dying in childbirth is a tragic occurence, regardless of the circumstances. But if the death was preventable and happened due to the malpractice of a physician or hospital staff, you may want to consider your legal options. Have an attorney review your claim today, at no cost to you.
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Contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney to make sure your rights are protected.