Fatal Medical Errors: How to Handle a Hospital Wrongful Death Claim

Here’s what you need to know about hospital wrongful death claims. If a loved one died in a hospital due to negligence, you may have a right to compensation.

More than 250,000 people die from medical malpractice every year, making medical errors, often in hospitals, the third leading cause of death in the United States. ¹

Healthcare providers are aware of the most common medical errors that hurt and kill patients. It’s hard to understand how medical wrongful deaths keep happening.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to medical malpractice, you are entitled to compensation for the wrongful death of your family member.

The negligent doctor and hospital should be held responsible for their negligence. Your family deserves financial consideration for medical expenses, funeral costs, and much, much more.

Common Deadly Medical Errors

When a physician or other healthcare provider’s treatment of a patient deviates from the established standard of medical care, and a patient unnecessarily suffers or dies, it’s considered medical malpractice.

The “standard of medical care” is defined as:

“[T]he type and level of care that a reasonably competent healthcare professional in the same field, with similar training, would have provided in the same situation.”

The “standard of medical care” depends on the patient’s location, the medical provider’s training, and the availability of diagnostic and treatment tools and technology. Each wrongful death claim asserting medical malpractice must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

However, there are categories of medical mistakes common to wrongful death claims.

Healthcare-Associated Infections: Patients get deadly infections in hospital settings, even though they are being treated for something else.

Any patient is at risk for hospital-based infections, particularly patients who’ve been taking antibiotics; recently had surgery; patients with central IV lines or urinary catheters; and those on ventilator support.

Hospital infections are highly contagious and easily spread without proper precautions.

Diagnostic Errors: Diagnostic errors resulting in death can stem from: mistaken or delayed diagnosis; failure to use correct tests; using outdated tests or treatments; or failing to act on test results promptly.

Treatment Errors: Fatal treatment errors can include botched operations or treatments; giving the wrong treatment for the condition; medications errors including wrong timing or dose, wrong medication, or wrong patient.

Other Errors: Other types of fatal errors include failure to provide prophylactic (preventative) treatment; patient falls; medical equipment failures, including beds, call bells, and monitoring devices; and more.

Hospital and Physician Negligence

When a loved one has died because of medical malpractice, your attorney will work with you to identify the negligent parties. Your lawsuit will need to show that your loved one died because someone made a medical mistake or failed to do what any reasonable medical provider would do.

Medical care providers and facilities have a duty of care, meaning a legal obligation to avoid causing harm to patients in their care.

The duty of care applies to all manner of health care workers, in clinics, medical offices, nursing homes, and any other care center. Home health care providers also have a duty of care.

Negligence happens when a health care provider or facility fails in their duty of care. The hospital nurse who injected insulin into the wrong patient was negligent.

Liability means legal responsibility. The hospital is legally responsible for the wrongful death of the patient who died after being injected with insulin meant for a different patient.

The Hospital May Not Be Liable for Physician Malpractice

Some health care workers, like many physicians, may treat patients at the hospital, but they don’t technically work for the hospital. The distinction is important when it comes to liability and malpractice insurance coverage.

Hospitals are usually responsible for the negligence of employees who work directly for the hospital, like nursing personnel, and staff employed in the pharmacy, dietary, and other areas of the hospital.

Hospitals are also liable for administrative failures, such as hiring unqualified workers, failing to maintain medical equipment, or failing to implement appropriate infection-control procedures.

If your loved died from the medical negligence of a doctor, the doctor may be an independent contractor or part of a physician’s group that has “hospital privileges,” meaning they’re allowed to see patients at the hospital, but they are not hospital employees.

Liability for wrongful death can get complicated. The hospital may not be off the hook for independent doctors. Talk to a personal injury attorney about all the negligent parties in your case.

Wrongful Death Claims and Survivor Actions

In most states, there are two types of legal actions available to family members who allege medical malpractice caused a patient’s death. One type of legal claim is for wrongful death, and the other is a survivor action.

Depending on the state, sometimes both types of action are included in the same lawsuit.

Wrongful Death claims and lawsuits are generally meant to compensate family members for their financial and emotional losses caused by the death of their loved one. Qualified family members are generally parents, spouses, and children of the deceased.

In the wrongful death part of the lawsuit, the decedent’s family seeks compensation for:

  • Loss of love and affection
  • Loss of the person’s presence and companionship
  • Loss of household services
  • Loss of financial support and benefits (like healthcare coverage)
  • Grief, bereavement, pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses

Survivor Actions are meant to seek compensation for the same kind of damages the deceased person might have recovered if they hadn’t died. Survivor actions are filed by the executor or administrator in charge of the deceased person’s estate.

In the survivors’ action part of the lawsuit, the representative of the decedent’s estate seeks compensation for:

  • Medical expenses before death
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of income

In a survivor action, the administrator or executor asks the court to order the negligent medical provider to pay the decedent’s estate.

The representative of a deceased person’s estate can be an executor or administrator.

An executor or executrix (feminine version) is a person who was designated in a person’s will before their death.

An administrator or administratrix (feminine version) is a person designated by the court to represent the estate of someone who died without leaving a will.

Intestate” is the legal term when a person dies without having made a will.

Hospital Wrongful Death Payment Distribution

Malpractice compensation paid into an estate through a survivor action will ultimately be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate. In many cases, the beneficiaries named in a person’s will would receive the compensation.

If the decedent died without a will (called “intestate”), the state’s laws come into play. Probate and wrongful death laws in each state govern who can benefit from a person’s estate.

Compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit may be distributed to beneficiaries who are not named in the decedent’s will.

In some cases, the court will decide how to distribute the compensation, taking into consideration such things as:

  • Ages: The court may appoint a “guardian ad litem,” meaning a person to look out for the best interest of a child, to oversee the funds until the child reaches the age of majority, usually 18 years old.
  • Legal capacity: A beneficiary may be over 18 and legally incompetent to manage their affairs. The court would proceed with the same protections as for a child.
  • Relationship: Usually a spouse receives a larger portion of the estate, followed by children, and so on.
  • Debts against the estate: Liens against the estate must be settled before any other distribution is made. For example, Medicare and other insurance plans may have to be reimbursed for medical expenses already paid.

Attorneys Boost Your Compensation

It’s hard to imagine handling legal issues immediately after the senseless death of a family member. However, time is of the essence when it comes to hospital wrongful death claims.

Each state has a strict statute of limitations period for settling a claim or filing a lawsuit. City, county or state agencies run many “public” hospitals. As government-run facilities, you may only have 30 to 60 days to file a wrongful death action.

If you fail to settle your malpractice claim or file a lawsuit before the statutory deadline, your claim is extinguished. Your family will lose the right to any compensation.

Talk to a personal injury attorney right away. Let your attorney step in to protect your family’s financial interests.

Insurance Companies Will Fight You

To pursue a hospital wrongful death and survivor action requires the advice and counsel of a qualified personal injury attorney, preferably with extensive experience in medical malpractice cases.

There’s no question that claimants with good attorneys recover much more money in negligence cases that claimants without an attorney.

The physician or hospital responsible for the death of your loved one isn’t going to admit they committed malpractice. Admitting fault would severely damage their reputation and open them up to more lawsuits. All they have is their reputation. They won’t simply give it up without a fight.

Physicians and hospitals pay thousands of dollars each year in malpractice insurance premiums. In return, when someone files a lawsuit against them, the insurance companies swing into action. Within hours of their insured being accused of malpractice, an insurance company retains a fleet of high-powered legal specialists.

How Can You Afford an Attorney?

Most personal injury attorneys won’t charge for their initial consultation. You’ll be able to meet with more than one attorney to find the best one to represent your family.

You’ll need an attorney with experience in medical malpractice death claims, who can advance the funds necessary to cover the cost of medical experts, actuarial studies, special accountants and more.

Experts will prove how the negligence occurred and support the scope of your financial losses, including the deceased’s lost lifetime income.

You can find a reputable, experienced attorney who will take your case on a contingency fee basis. In other words, the attorney’s income is contingent on winning your wrongful death case. The attorney’s fees aren’t paid unless your case settles or wins a verdict in court.

Don’t wait. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you and your family.

Hospital Wrongful Death Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>