Johns Hopkins University released a study with figures showing over 250,000 people per year die in this country due to medical mistakes. This statistic makes medical malpractice related incidents the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer.
The truth is that we will likely never really know the exact number of people whose lives are lost to medical mistakes. This is because medical examiners and doctors do not actively label cause of death to be a mistake they made or that a system malfunctioned. So, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention simply uses the data shown on death certificates and continues to tally whatever those documents say. Some studies suggest that medical error actually accounts for more than 440,000 deaths per year.
However, for the families of individuals who die from a medical mistake, there is an option available for holding the physician or hospital accountable. You may speak with a legal representative who will help ascertain the best way to seek justice for your loved one’s untimely death. Each state has its own set of laws governing procedures and specifications surrounding a wrongful death lawsuit.
Forms of Medical Malpractice That Lead to Death
While there are many different types of medical malpractice that end in death for the patient, there are a few that are most common. These include:
- Diagnostic Mistakes – The most common form of malpractice is diagnostic errors. Sadly, many patients receive an incorrect diagnosis or the correct one too late. Frequently, cancer is involved. If a physician does not properly diagnose cancer when a patient presents himself or herself showing symptoms, precious valuable time is then lost when the patient could have been receiving life-saving treatment. Likewise, if the doctor wrongly diagnoses a different disease, the patient may undergo painful, unnecessary treatments that damage other parts of the body while leaving the actual cancer to spread. Strokes and heart attacks are often incorrectly diagnosed, particularly in women.
- Emergency Room Mistakes – The word triage is often seen and heard in relation to emergency room cases. Triage references varying degrees of urgency for illnesses or wounds, and it signifies the importance of properly handling more serious emergencies first. Unfortunately, the emergency room is where life-threatening medical mistakes are often made resulting in loss of life. In the fast-paced world of the ER, communication can fall through the cracks, and needed tests can be forgotten or wrong medication can be dispensed. Additionally, if a patient ends up being admitted to the hospital from there, sometimes a full and accurate description of what happened in the ER does not make it to the nursing staff or doctor at the patient’s new room.
- Surgery or Anesthesia Mistakes – Diligence during a surgical procedure is paramount. However, surgical errors made it into this listing of common medical mistakes. Even more dangerous than the surgery itself, though, can be the anesthesia process. Incorrect dosage levels and failure to properly monitor the patient can end tragically in death. Other serious, almost unbelievable, surgical errors occur when an instrument is left inside a body. Additionally, arteries, nerves or organs sometimes get pierced or lacerated inadvertently during surgery. In some cases, doctors have even operated on the wrong person or the wrong body part.
- Medication Mistakes – In some cases, patients are given the wrong dosage of their prescribed medicine. In other cases, though, they are given the wrong medicine entirely. In either case, the mistake can be deadly. Additional medication errors involve failing to check for or ask about any drug allergies or adverse drug reactions.
Hospital and Physician Liability
There are situations when both the hospital and the physician are guilty of negligence, so both can be named in a lawsuit for wrongful death. Of course, the details of the negligent act will determine the liable party.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family of the deceased has to prove that the defendant caused the untimely death. The same rules that are applied to medical malpractice will generally apply to a wrongful death suit.
A patient’s death can be negligently caused in a variety of ways in a hospital setting. Two of the most common ones are:
- By the negligence of a health care provider who is an employee of the hospital. This includes doctors, nurses, hospital employees, and other health care professionals.
- By the hospital’s own negligence. This can include errant behavior in its hiring or supervising of employees; the way it maintains or repairs equipment; or its management or overseeing of medical care at the facility.
Generally speaking, a hospital cannot be legally held liable for a negligent doctor who merely saw a patient there or did an operation there, but was not an employee of the hospital. Unless a doctor or nurse is the hospital’s employee, he or she is considered an independent contractor. In such cases, the hospital is likely not legally responsible for the individual health care provider’s negligence.
Who is Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Usually, the person who files a wrongful death lawsuit is the closest surviving relative. This would typically be a spouse, parent or child. However, it could also be the administrator or executor of the deceased’s estate. If there is a dispute over who will be the legal representative for filing the lawsuit, the court will be the one to resolve the issue.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Suit
In cases of wrongful death, the damages sought are very similar to those sought in a medical malpractice case. These would include medical costs, loss of wages, disfigurement, disability and possibly punitive damages. In wrongful death lawsuits, some additional damages may be pursued. These are:
- Burial or funeral expenses
- Permanently lost financial support
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of nurturing or guidance (some states allow this for children)
- Loss of consortium (comfort, companionship and love)
State laws and the specific facts of a case will determine the allowable damages in medical malpractice and also wrongful death lawsuits. The counsel of an experienced malpractice/wrongful death attorney can prove invaluable when seeking compensation for damages.
Speak With One of Our Experienced Attorneys
The legal professionals at The Eichholz Law Firm are no strangers to wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits. Our team of attorneys has successfully investigated and litigated cases where we have shown the negligence, incompetence, and failure of medical professionals to provide the standard of care due to all patients who entrust themselves into the hands of physicians and surgeons.
If you or a family member has suffered an injury due to a surgical error, reach out to us. We will help you recover compensation and find justice for the harm that has been done to you.
Call (855) 551-1019 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with our legal team.