Can a Doctor Be Sued for Wrongful Death of a Patient?

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Doctors often deal with issues of life and death. Unfortunately, there are times when they can’t save the patient. Our society has forgotten the distinction between tragedy and evil, so the default reaction tends to be to blame the doctor or another party. But can a doctor be sued for wrongful death of a patient? And when are such suits likely to be successful? 

What Is a Wrongful Death? 

A wrongful death is when someone dies due to medical malpractice or negligence. This lawsuit could be an extension of an ongoing medical malpractice case, or it could be a new case. A wrongful death case like medical malpractice cases requires proving that the doctor did something wrong or failed to follow standard medical procedures, resulting in someone’s death.

However, not all wrongful death cases arise out of medical malpractice cases. You can sue someone who killed the victim of their “knockout game”. You could file a wrongful death suit against the drunk driver who killed your loved one. You can file a wrongful death suit against a medical device manufacturer, when the device’s failure killed your family member. 

When Does Someone Have a Valid Wrongful Death Case? 

A wrongful death case can be filed if there is evidence that medical malpractice contributed to or caused the patient’s death. So while most malpractice cases don’t result in death, a death caused by medical negligence or errors can trigger a wrongful death case. A wrongful death lawyer can help you sue the responsible party, whether it is a doctor who didn’t diagnose a life-threatening infection or the nurses in the nursing home who failed to administer the necessary medication to treat it. 

What Happens When There Is a Wrongful Death? 

Wrongful death lawsuits have different statutory rules than medical malpractice laws. For example, many states have a shorter statute of limitations for wrongful death than they do medical malpractice. But like medical malpractice suits, you must file a notice of intent to sue before you file the lawsuit. Then the lawsuit itself can be filed by the next of kin or those dependent on the deceased for support.

The damages in a wrongful death suit can include pain and suffering for the survivors left behind, the medical bills of the deceased, and burial costs. It typically includes money to offset their lost wages, as well. 

How Can a Doctor Fight a Wrongful Death Case? 

There are several ways you could fight a wrongful death case. One route is proving that the care given was reasonable given the circumstances. If someone had a rare disorder, it isn’t unreasonable for the average doctor to fail to recognize it. If the patient didn’t disclose information that would have made a major difference in their outcome, the doctor shouldn’t be blamed. If your doctor doesn’t know about their medication allergies or serious health conditions, they may recommend the wrong course of action. 

Your attorney may also argue that someone else is culpable. The doctor could argue that their prescription isn’t the problem, if the patient didn’t take their meds. Why sue the doctor who was supervising the last hours of someone’s life, if the nursing home wasn’t turning them over or seeking treatment for bed sores when the patient could be helped? Don’t sue the patient’s primary doctor, if the mistake was by the surgeon or the hospitalist.  

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