Every year, thousands of patients die during, or as a result of, medical treatment: in fact, medical malpractice wrongful death is the leading cause of death in California. When a victim dies from medical malpractice, the family of the deceased is left to deal with the overwhelming mental and emotional stress of the loss, a sudden decrease in the amount of love, emotional support, and caring that person provided, as well as significant financial burdens such as medical expenses and a decrease in the families overall income.
While monetary compensation cannot bring back a family's loved one, it can help lessen the financial burden the family faces as well as prevent wrongful death medical malpractice cases from happening to another family in the future and holding accountable those responsible for their negligent actions.
What Makes a Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death
In order to clearly define what medical malpractice wrongful death is, it is helpful to first understand the definition of each separate legal term. Medical malpractice deals with professional negligence and is defined as any act or omission by a physician or other trained healthcare professional during treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms within the established medical community which results in an injury to the patient. Medical malpractice, therefore, can be when a healthcare professional does something that hurts a patient, such as making a mistake during a procedure, as well as failing to do something, such as not administering life-saving medication.
Wrongful death is defined as the loss of an individual's life as a result of another individual's acts or omissions. Therefore, these cases are civil actions wherein a victim's family can file a lawsuit against a healthcare professional who, through either their acts or omissions, caused the death of a loved one during treatment of the patient.
Who Can Bring a Lawsuit?
The California laws that dictate who can bring a lawsuit for these case types are quite complicated; a qualified medical malpractice wrongful death attorney should be consulted by the family in order to determine which family members are eligible. Generally speaking, the plaintiff (the person or persons who files the lawsuit) must be a rightful heir of the deceased family member. A few simple examples can help to define “heirs” under California law:
- Joe is deceased as a result of medical malpractice. He is married to Sue and the couple has two children, Mark and Jane.
- Joe is deceased as a result of medical malpractice. He has never been married and has no children. His parents and siblings are still living.
- Joe is deceased as result of medical malpractice. He has a registered domestic partnership with Dan.
In the first example, Sue, Mark and Jane are all rightful heirs to Joe and can therefore all act as plaintiffs for the purposes of bringing a claim. In the second example, since Joe is unmarried and without children, his rightful heirs are his parents and his siblings. Under the third example, domestic partners are recognized as rightful heirs as long as the partnership has been registered with the state; Dan would be able to bring an action. It is important to note that under California law, all rightful heirs must be named as potential plaintiffs in a medical malpractice wrongful death action.
Statute of Limitations
In California, a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within a specific period of time from the death, known as the statute of limitations. Generally, the family of the victim has one year from the date of death in which to file. There are exceptions to this rule however: a qualified attorney will be able to determine whether the circumstances of your case fall within a statute of limitations exception.
Common Types of Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Claims
Although family members can file a claim against a healthcare professional for a death caused by any act or omission, there are several common types of acts or omissions that result in lawsuits. These include:
- Wrongful death of a child or mother during or after childbirth (California law does not provide for a wrongful death claim for the death of a fetus however)
- Failure to diagnose life-threatening medical conditions
- Misdiagnosis of life-threatening medical conditions
- Errors in prescribing or administering medication
- Surgical errors
- Anesthesia-related death
- Death resulting from infections
- Emergency room negligence
Potential Compensation Recoverable in a Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Action
California allows for two categories of compensation that are recoverable. The family may recover economic damages and/or non-economic damages. In California, there is no limit to the amount of economic damages the family may recover under the following sub-categories:
- Medical and burial expenses
- Loss of potential earnings calculated for the projected lifespan of the deceased
- Loss of financial support calculated from the estimated amount of financial support the deceased would have provided his or her family during their projected lifespan
- Loss of household services, such as childcare services that are rendered by the deceased
In addition to economic damages, a family can also recover for non-economic damages. These include:
- Loss of training or guidance, usually in regard to any children the deceased may have had
- Loss of emotional support, love, companionship and other support that the deceased had previously provided
- Loss of intimate relations that the deceased had previously provided a spouse or partner
In California, a family cannot recover for the pain and suffering or mental anguish of the deceased prior to their death. A wrongful death claim focuses on compensating the family for their own suffering that was caused by the death of a loved one. Punitive damages are only available in very limited circumstances. Additional compensation may also be awarded if the wrongful death was caused by elder abuse or dependent care abuse.
Obtain Your Free Case Evaluation
Those who have lost a loved one due to the carelessness or negligence of a doctor have the right to pursue compensation. In California, Timothy J. Ryan & Associates has been assisting victims' families for more than 34 years. Their medical malpractice wrongful death lawyers helped to recover over $1 billion on behalf of victims and provide free case evaluations. Call (800) 838-6644 to receive assistance from skilled legal professionals.