What Families Need to Know When Medical Malpractice Claims the Life of Their Loved One

The loss of a loved one is one of the most devastating times for families to endure. Sadly, many family members don’t get to say their goodbyes or hug their loved ones one last time before they are gone. What makes the matter worse is when the loss of a family member is caused by an error on the part of a medical professional. The shocking reality is that doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, pharmacists, and other medical professionals have made critical mistakes that have cost patients their lives. In fact, preventable medical errors actually claim hundreds of thousands of people’s lives every year.

Deadly mistakes made by healthcare professionals are acts of carelessness and negligence that are considered medical malpractice. Because medical professionals are held to a standard of care, families who have lost their loved ones due to medical negligence need to learn all they can about wrongful death due to medical malpractice. For this reason, our law firm has created this page to provide surviving family members with information about wrongful death claims as they relate to medical negligence, the types of damages families can recover, and other resources for grieving families going through such a difficult time.

Causes of Wrongful Death

  • Birth injuries. There are many things that can go wrong during pregnancy and labor and delivery. When doctors fail to perform a C-section in time or respond in a timely manner to a fetus that is in distress, the results can be fatal. Also, when a prolonged labor occurs and an infant suffers from inadequate oxygen, the baby can experience irreversible brain damage that can ultimately lead to his or her death. Wrongful death can also occur due to improperly managed preeclampsia and undiagnosed maternal infections during pregnancy. Unfortunately, some babies aren’t able to recover from pregnancy- and birth-related injuries, which is why negligent doctors need to be held accountable for the loss of a child’s precious life.
  • Brain injuries during medical procedures. (link to the library article on med mal brain injuries) When doctors and anesthesiologists make errors during surgery, brain surgery, or childbirth, and a lack of oxygen occurs, brain cells can die and a patient can suffer from permanent brain damage that can even lead to death. Whether a medical professional makes a surgical error, misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis, labor and delivery error, or a medication mishap that causes a fatal brain injury, that medical professional should be held liable through a wrongful death claim. There is absolutely no excuse for medical negligence that claims an innocent person’s life.
  • Surgical errors. It’s no wonder people are afraid of surgery—things can go terribly wrong.  Mistakes are made by doctors during surgery that can cost patients their lives. When surgeons are inattentive or tired, they may accidentally cut internal organs or other body parts—causing patients to bleed out and suffer fatal injuries. Sometimes surgical errors are the result of keeping patients waiting too long due to the short supply of doctors in the emergency room. However, surgical errors don’t just occur in emergency rooms, they can take place in doctors’ offices and other medical facilities during outpatient surgeries as well.
  • Diagnosing errors. Sometimes doctors fail to diagnosis conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, and aneurysms. As a result, misdiagnosing or a delay in diagnosing these health conditions, as well as other medical conditions, can actually cause the death of a patient. If doctors did their due diligence and caught health concerns in time or diagnosed medical conditions properly, the appropriate treatment could have been administered and patients who died might have been able to live.
  • Medication errors. When doctors write the wrong prescription for patients or nurses administer the wrong medication or the wrong dose of medicine, the results can be deadly. Also, anesthesiologists have been known to make critical mistakes administering anesthesia and monitoring patients during surgery. When patients are overmedicated or not monitored properly, they can suffer fatal injuries. Deadly medication errors can also occur as a result of pharmacy malpractice, which is when pharmacists dispense the wrong medication, the wrong dose of medication, or write the instructions incorrectly and patients pay with their lives. If a doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist, or pharmacist causes a medication error that claims the life of a loved one, a wrongful death lawsuit should be pursued. 

As you can see by this list, there are many causes of medical negligence resulting in death. However, it is important to note that in each of these scenarios, medical malpractice needs to be established prior to bringing a claim against a medical professional or hospital. In order to establish medical malpractice as a basis for a wrongful death claim, it must be proven that a doctor or other healthcare professional failed to perform the standard of care that is expected of other medical professionals in similar circumstances. Because these cases can be complicated, it is critical that surviving family members request a copy of their loved one’s medical records and meet with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

While it may be difficult to think about filing a lawsuit and recovering money at a time like this, it is important to a family’s financial future. Oftentimes surviving family members are not only hit with the shocking news of their loved one’s passing, but they are also hit with a pile of medical bills and funeral expenses. This is why it is essential that families are aware of the types of damages they can recover through a wrongful death lawsuit in order to lessen the financial burden caused by their devastating loss.

Types of Damages Families Can Recover

  • Medical costs. Any type of medical expense connected to the death including hospital bills, medications, anesthesiologist bills, and medical treatment of any kind are damages surviving family members should recover through a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • Funeral/burial expenses. When families have to bury their loved one as a result of a medical error, funeral and burial expenses are damages available to survivors in a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • Lost income. If the victim was a wage earner, dependents should be able to collect for future lost wages as well as pension plans or medical coverage that the victim was providing to the family until his or her untimely death.
  • Loss of love and companionship or care and guidance. When husbands or wives lose their partner, they suffer from the loss of love and companionship their spouse gave them. Also, when children lose a parent, they suffer from the loss of care and guidance that can never be replaced. These are damages that should be compensable in wrongful death claims.
  • Loss of services. When a loved one is taken away from his or her family, surviving family members should be able to recover the value of goods and services that the deceased family member would have provided. For example, if the victim was a stay-at-home mom, benefits can include the cost of childcare, housekeeping, and other domestic services.
  • Pain and suffering. The loss of a loved one causes emotional distress, which is why surviving family members should be compensated for their mental anguish and trauma caused by the death of a loved one.

Although there is no financial figure that could ever be placed on your loved one’s life, it is important to make sure you get the full financial value of your case by pursuing a wrongful death claim. Because wrongful death cases can be complex, it is critical to get your questions answered and understand as much as possible about the legal process and your rights.

What to Expect With a Wrongful Death Claim

  • Who can file a wrongful death claim? There are many people who may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim such as the deceased person’s spouse or the next of kin, which could include children, parents or siblings. It is important to note that the court recognizes a very specific order of priority regarding which relatives can bring this type of claim.
  • What is the length of time to bring a wrongful death claim? Virginia law allows a wrongful death claim or a survival action claim to be filed within two years of the date of the victim’s death. If the claim is filed past those two years, the case will be barred from being heard in court. In Washington D.C., surviving family members also have two years to file a wrongful death suit or a three years for a survival action claim.
  • What is the difference between wrongful death and survival action claims? A survival action claim may be filed by the representative of the deceased person’s estate, and any damages awarded would pass through the estate. The point of this claim is to collect for injuries the decedent suffered prior to his or her death, whereas a wrongful death claim awards damages directly to surviving family members for their losses.
  • What should I know about hiring an attorney for a wrongful death claim? Not all lawyers have tried cases in court or have handled medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. It is critical to your case’s outcome that you find a lawyer who has experience in similar cases, who has successfully tried such cases in court, and with whom you feel comfortable.

No patient should ever have to suffer fatal injuries as a result of medical negligence. When death occurs as a result of malpractice, negligent medical professionals need to be held accountable for their wrongful actions, and surviving family members should be compensated accordingly for their losses. If your family has suffered the loss of your loved one due to a medical error, we extend our deepest sympathies and would be honored to help you. Please call our office to speak with one of our caring Virginia wrongful death lawyers who can help you navigate the legal system during this painful time. You can reach us at (703) 591-0067. We would be glad to provide you with a free consultation and answer your questions.