Wrongful Death vs. Medical Malpractice
After a person has been wrongfully injured or killed, there are several different types of legal proceedings—both civil and criminal—that can be filed. The nature of the circumstances and the type of injury will dictate the type of legal remedies available. Read on to learn more about the difference between wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits.
Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice Compared
It can be confusing to understand the distinction between wrongful death and medical malpractice. Depending on the circumstances, certain types of lawsuits might involve both claims.
A wrongful death case is a type of lawsuit that can be brought by the family of a person who died due to the negligence or intentional act of another. There are many different types of events that can give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- Car accidents
- Intentional or negligent homicide
- A killing by the police
- Industrial accidents
- Medical malpractice
Sometimes, a wrongful death lawsuit will follow a criminal trial initiated by the state and arising from the same circumstances. A well-known example is the successful civil suits brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman against O.J. Simpson. In this case, a jury found that Simpson was responsible for the two deaths and awarded damages totaling $33.5 million. The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit—"a preponderance of the evidence"—is lower than the showing of "beyond a reasonable doubt" required for a criminal conviction. For this reason, it's possible for a family to succeed with a civil wrongful death lawsuit even if a jury in the criminal case returned a not-guilty verdict.
In some circumstances, if the prosecutor declines to indict a suspect following a death, a wrongful death civil lawsuit may be the family's only recourse. For example, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the parents of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old man shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the state declined to prosecute the matter. This civil case was recently settled for $1.5 million.
On the other hand, medical malpractice is any conduct by a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional that falls below the accepted standard of professional care. Medical malpractice can result in injury to the patient, or in the death of a patient. Some examples of medical malpractice include:
- Misdiagnosis of disease or condition
- Mistakes in administering medication or anesthesia
- Surgical errors
- Medical errors during pregnancy or childbirth that result in injuries to a child
Given that medical malpractice can lead to death, it's possible that a plaintiff may have a claim for both medical malpractice and wrongful death. However, many states have laws that limit or "cap" the amount of damages that a jury can award a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Due to these nuisances, it's a good idea to speak with an attorney before filing a wrongful death or medical malpractice lawsuit.
Get Legal Help with Your Wrongful Death or Medical Malpractice Claim
If you've been injured by the negligence of a medical professional, or you have lost a loved one as a result of medical malpractice, you may be owed legal restitution. Each state has specific laws governing wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits, and these sorts of cases have statutes of limitations, so it's important to act quickly. Become informed by speaking to a skilled personal injury attorney in your state today.
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