Wrongful Death vs. Medical Malpractice
Civil and criminal proceedings may follow after a person has been wrongfully injured or killed. The nature of the circumstances and the type of injury will dictate the type of legal remedies available. Family members of the victim may file a medical negligence suit. Or they may have a valid wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased. Read on to learn about the difference between wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits.
Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice Compared
You might confuse wrongful death and medical malpractice. Both are specific types of personal injury cases. Depending on the circumstances, certain types of lawsuits might involve both claims. There are many instances of overlap.
The types of damages that you can get in a wrongful death case and a medical malpractice case are similar. The types of damages are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Some of the economic damages may include:
Past and future medical care, including medical bills for doctor visits and other health care professionals, hospital visits, and medical equipment
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning potential
- Loss of financial support
- Funeral expenses and cremation or burial expenses
Non-economic damages can be speculative; they are more difficult to quantify. They include:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of child, parent, or spouse
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of limbs, fertility, or vision
Depending on the situation, the court may award punitive damages if the wrongful act was especially heinous.
A wrongful death case is a type of lawsuit that a surviving family member or personal representative of a person who died can file. They can file if the decedent's death was due to the intentional act of another or the result of negligence. Negligence is defined as the breach of the duty of care.
Many different types of events can give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- Car accidents
- Intentional or negligent homicide
- A police killing
- Industrial accidents
- Medical malpractice
A wrongful death lawsuit may follow a state-initiated criminal trial arising from the same circumstances. A well-known example is the successful civil suits that the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman brought against O.J. Simpson. A jury found that Simpson was responsible for the two deaths. The jury awarded $33.5 million in damages.
The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is lower than in a criminal case. Civil courts use the preponderance of evidence standard. This is unlike the criminal conviction standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Due to the differences, one can prevail in a civil lawsuit even if a criminal jury returns a not-guilty verdict.
If the prosecutor does not indict a suspect following a death, a wrongful death suit could be the family's only recourse. For example, the parents of Michael Brown (the 18-year-old man shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri) filed a wrongful death suit. The parents received a settlement of $1.5 million. This was after the state declined to prosecute the matter.
Medical malpractice is any conduct by a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional that does not fulfill the accepted standard of care and causes harm. 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, including leaving material or instruments behind in a patient
- 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. But many states have laws that limit or "cap" the amount of damages that a jury can award a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
Every personal injury claim expires at some point. If you don't file within the statute of limitations, the court will probably dismiss your case. While each state has a statute of limitations law, there are similarities across state lines. You usually have between two and three years to file a wrongful death case or a medical malpractice case. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim begins from the date of death of the deceased person. For a medical malpractice claim, the time begins when the injured person is injured or should know about the injury.
Get Legal Help With Your Wrongful Death or Medical Malpractice Claim
You deserve legal restitution if you've been injured by the negligence of a medical professional or healthcare provider. You need compensation if you have lost a loved one as a result of medical malpractice. 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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