We often hear the term “wrongful death,” but what does it really mean? This blog will explain what a wrongful death is and why it may lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.
A 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University found that more than 250,000 people die each year from medical malpractice (or medical error). Other studies have found that number is actually more than 400,000 people. Either number makes medical malpractice the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. Each of these deaths is considered a “wrongful death” because it was preventable. Under Arizona law, a wrongful death case is when the surviving family (parents, spouse, and/or birth children) file a lawsuit to hold the doctor, nurse, hospital, urgent care center, etc. accountable for their loved one’s death. In other words, a wrongful death case is one type of medical malpractice case. It can also be a products liability case (when a dangerous product kills someone), a personal injury case (deadly car accident, truck crash, etc.), or any other type of negligent harm that resulted in a person’s death.
To prove a wrongful death case arising from medical malpractice, the plaintiff (family) must prove that the healthcare provider was negligent (did something wrong), that the negligence was a cause of the death, and the damages caused by the death. Without all three links in the chain, a case cannot be filed. As the lawyer, it is our job to prove each part of the case. First, we have an expert in the same field as the healthcare provider review the records. He or she tells us if the defendant did anything wrong (was below the standard of care). We then either use the same expert or a doctor in a different specialty to say whether the negligence was a cause of the person’s death. There can be many causes, but the negligence just has to be one of them. Finally, we have to prove what the family’s loss is. Was the person working? If so, his or her lost wages for the rest of his/her working life are part of the case. Did the person work around the house (cook, clean, etc.)? That is also part of the case. Those are called “special damages” because they have a specific dollar amount connected to them. The other part is “general damages,” which is the family members’ loss of love, companionship, enjoyment of life, etc. caused by the person’s death. Each family member has his or her own claim for general damages. We spend hours with each family member to see how the death has impacted his or her life. Once all three links are proven, we file the wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death cases are important because they hold doctors, hospitals, urgent care centers, and all other healthcare providers accountable for their conduct. WIthout this check and balance, there would be no repercussions for negligence, and healthcare providers would be free to act however they wanted. Snyder & Wenner has over 85 combined years of experience representing families in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. Contact us today by clicking here or by using the form below for a free consultation.