What Is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death?

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The medical profession depends upon the confidence and trust of its patients, and healthcare professionals are expected to uphold and adhere to a certain standard of care. However, mistakes can happen and in this profession more than any other, the consequences can be life-threatening.

In many cases, a healthcare professional may cause injury or harm to a patient, or worse. According to a study by John Hopkins Medicine, over 250,000 people in the U.S. die each year as a result of medical errors, making this the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer.

If you have lost someone you love as a result of a medical provider’s actions or inaction, you may have grounds for bringing a legal claim against them and an experienced law firm such as The Tinker Law Firm PLLC can advise you of your rights. It can also be helpful to understand the difference between a medical malpractice claim and a wrongful death claim which this article will explain below.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when the treatment provided by a medical professional falls below the accepted standard of care expected of them causing injury to the patient. Some examples of medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Surgical errors
  • Medication or dosage errors
  • Delayed treatment
  • Premature discharge

In addition to proving the existence of a doctor-patient relationship, the following characteristics must be present to be successful in a medical malpractice claim:

Duty of Care

The healthcare provider (the “defendant”) must have owed a duty of care to the patient (the “plaintiff”) that met the acceptable standards of medical care expected of them.

Breach of Duty

The defendant’s actions fell short of the standards expected of them resulting in a breach of their duty of care to the plaintiff. 

Injury of Harm

There must be a direct or proximate connection between the defendant’s breach of duty and the injury sustained by the plaintiff.

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Significant Damages

The loss incurred must be financially quantifiable resulting in damages that the plaintiff is claiming compensation for. This can include things like loss of future earning capacity, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.  All of the elements together constitute the necessary element of negligence that is essential to providing a medical malpractice claim.

Wrongful Death

In a wrongful death claim, all of the elements above still apply except rather than injury to the patient, a death must have occurred. The other main difference between a medical malpractice claim and a wrongful death claim concerns the person acting as the plaintiff. Rather than the injured person bringing the claim, as in the former situation, the plaintiff in a wrongful death claim will typically be a close family member.

The types of damages that can be claimed in wrongful death cases may also differ to those sought in a medical malpractice case. As well as medical costs for the time the deceased was alive, the surviving family members may also be able to receive damages for things like funeral or burial expenses, loss of inheritance, and loss of consortium.

With the information set out in this article, you can have a greater understanding of the best course of action to take according to your circumstances.