While malpractice refers to a type of medical negligence, wrongful death involves a claim, or lawsuit, that is settled in civil court. However, despite the primary difference between malpractice and wrongful death, the two often relate to each other.
In medical malpractice cases in which the victim loses their life, loved ones or estate representatives may pursue a wrongful death case to recover financial awards for damages that result from their loss. Essentially, not all wrongful death cases involve medical malpractice, but some malpractice claims can lead to wrongful death lawsuits.
If a health care provider’s negligence led to the death of your loved one, a lawyer could help you pursue legal action involving wrongful death.
Establishing Medical Malpractice
The American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA) defines medical malpractice as the negligent act, or a failure to act, of a medical provider that causes injury to patients. Malpractice can occur under many circumstances and for many reasons, but medical error frequently leads to patient fatalities. According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, medical errors come in third place behind cancer and heart disease among the leading causes of death in the United States each year, accounting for about 250,000 lives annually.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice can occur during any stage of doctor-patient interaction, from pre-diagnosis to post-operation. Common types of medical malpractice include:
- Failure to diagnose
- Misinterpreting lab test results
- Surgical mistakes, such as unnecessary operations, incorrect surgery sites, or retained foreign objects
- Incorrect medication or dosage
- Poor follow-up care or premature discharge
Legal Definition of Negligence
Doctors cannot guarantee the outcome of the treatments they provide, and unintended results sometimes occur even when the doctor treats patients according to the accepted standard of care. In these cases, victims of unfortunate accidents likely do not have a medical malpractice case. To meet the legal definition of negligence, as required to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, the doctor must have:
- An established professional relationship with the patient, to whom they owed a duty of care
- Violated their duty of care to the patient
- Caused the patient injuries as a result of a failure to provide adequate care
- Caused injuries that resulted in significant damages to the patient and/or their loved ones
If a doctor’s negligence led to the death of your loved one, a lawyer could help you prove medical malpractice and file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek the financial losses you suffered as a result of their death.
Establishing Wrongful Death
Medical malpractice cases can lead to either personal injury or wrongful death cases. In personal injury cases, the victims themselves seek compensation for their damages. In wrongful death cases, the victim can no longer represent themselves in court, so a loved one or estate representative pursues financial awards on their behalf.
Types of Wrongful Death Cases
While medical malpractice often leads to wrongful death cases, any case involving the death of a person due to another person’s unlawful negligence can constitute grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Product defects
- Slips and falls
- Dog bites
- Workplace injuries
- Nursing home abuse
If your loved one’s death did not occur as a result of medical malpractice, but because of another situation involving negligence, you may still have a wrongful death case. While negligence accounts for most instances of wrongful death, loved ones can sometimes pursue legal action involving wrongful death for intentional acts, such as homicide, as well. An attorney can review the details of your case and offer further counsel.
Proving Wrongful Death
Just like medical malpractice, proving wrongful death comes down to establishing negligence. To do this, you must prove that someone such as a doctor, driver, caregiver, or property owner had an obligation to exercise reasonable caution to prevent harm to your loved one and failed to do so. You must also prove that their failure to keep your loved one safe resulted in their death, which left you with significant damages. If your case meets these criteria, you might qualify for financial recovery in a wrongful death case.
Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases
Each state has a time limit on how long a person can file a wrongful death lawsuit, known as a statute of limitations. These limits typically start on the date of death and range from one year to several years. Exceptions sometimes apply depending on the circumstances of your case.
States also have laws determining who can pursue legal action over wrongful death. In many states, certain family members can pursue legal action, but others require the executor of the decedent’s estate to file suit. An attorney can provide you with more information on the legal process involving wrongful death cases in your state.
How a Lawyer Could Help You
The difference between malpractice and wrongful death lies in their definitions; while wrongful death involves a legal claim, medical malpractice occurs as a type of negligence. However, medical malpractice can sometimes lead to wrongful death litigation, and a lawyer could provide guidance in this area.
While you do not need an attorney to pursue your wrongful death case, having legal representation can guide you through the complexities of the legal process, saving you time and ensuring that your lawsuit is filed by the statute of limitations deadline.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC, works on a contingency fee basis, which means you do not owe us any fees upfront unless and until we achieve compensation in your favor. Contact us today at (800) 593-3443 to speak with our legal team about your case.