It’s one of the most common questions we get asked – “What is the difference between medical malpractice and wrongful death?” Certainly, medical malpractice may lead to death, and thus a wrongful death lawsuit. However, not all wrongful death cases emerge from medical malpractice. In this article, our Houston medical malpractice attorney addresses the differences between medical malpractice and wrongful death.
Put simply, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider is negligent and the patient is harmed. Wrongful death occurs when someone dies as a direct result of the negligence, carelessness, wrongful act, or a lack of action of someone else.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider is negligent and the patient is harmed. Healthcare providers who may act negligently include doctors, nurses, surgeons, midwives, hospital staff, or pharmacists.
Some examples of medical malpractice include:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Surgical errors
- Birth injuries
- Nursing home abuse
- Delayed treatment
- Medication errors
This list is hardly exhaustive. Medical malpractice can occur at any point in the diagnosis, treatment, or follow up processes.
What is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death has a broader legal context than medical malpractice or personal injury in general. As discussed above, wrongful death may be defined as the neglect, carelessness, wrongful act, or default of one person, which leads to the death of another.
Whereas medical malpractice specifically addresses cases of medical negligence, wrongful death cases result from a variety of circumstances, including death caused by:
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Nursing home abuse or negligence
- Automobile accidents caused by negligence
- Assault (even when the actual death was an unintentional)
- Defective medical devices
- Recalled or dangerous vehicles
- Recalled or dangerous food sold in restaurants or grocery stores
As you can see, wrongful death cases vary greatly and are included in many more legal areas than medical malpractice. If someone you love has died after these or other situations that you believe were the result of negligence, contact Brown, Christie & Green. Our medical malpractice attorneys can help you understand your situation and determine what type of case you may have.
When Medical Malpractice Leads to Wrongful Death
While there are clear differences between medical malpractice and wrongful death claims in legal terms, there are definitely some things you should know about what to do when these two concepts merge. Consider the following:
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In most cases, the person who files a wrongful death claim is the closest relative of the person who died, such as a parent, child, or spouse. There are also times when an executor of the deceased person’s estate can file a claim, if such a person is identified in a will, rather than the estate being managed by next of kin.
What Types of Damages Can be Claimed in Wrongful Death Cases?
The types of damages claimed in wrongful death cases may be different than, or in addition to, those commonly sought in medical malpractice cases. Medical malpractice damages generally consist of medical expenses, lost wages, disability or disfigurement, or punitive damages.
Plaintiffs may also pursue the following damages in a wrongful death claim:
- Funeral or burial expenses
- Loss of financial support
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (companionship, comfort, and love)
- Loss of guidance or nurturing (allowed in some states for children of the deceased)
The types of damages allowed in medical malpractice and wrongful death claims both will often depend on the facts of your case, as well as applicable state laws. It is always advisable to contact an attorney before filing any lawsuit, or seeking compensation from another party.
Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases
Like most legal matters, there are some limitations in wrongful death cases that you should be aware of. For example, there is a statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim. In most states, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of death. Once this period has passed you may be unable to take legal action.
There also may be financial limits to what you can pursue in these cases. These limits often are specific to the type of damage sought, the type of lawsuit, and any limits established by state law. In Texas, there is a $250,000 damage cap for non-economic damages. These are the damages that cannot be valued by financial records, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of companionship or consortium.
How to Get Help with Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death Cases
Losing a loved one is never easy. We all want to hope that our loved ones will live long, healthy, full lives, but unfortunately, that is not always the case. If your family is suffering from the untimely, and possibly preventable death of a loved one, you may find it helpful to speak to an attorney to determine if you are eligible to file a lawsuit.
At Brown, Christie & Green, we manage all sorts of medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. When you contact us, you will be met with compassion, respect, and legal guidance that you can count on. We offer a free case review to every client, and are passionate about finding legal solutions that work for you.
To contact one of our skilled attorneys, please fill out our online form. Don’t let negligence prevail in harming your family and violating your rights. Let us help you get the justice and compensation you deserve.