Suppose the negligence of a medical provider contributed to or caused the death of a loved one. Would you have a legal claim for wrongful death or medical malpractice? While medical malpractice and wrongful death claims are distinctly different legal concepts, they often come together in the same legal claim or lawsuit. Understanding the differences is helpful if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
Medical Malpractice Claims
Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional (such as a doctor, nurse, or another medical provider) fails to provide the standard of care expected in their profession, and their failure to do so harms the patient. In this case, the injured patient or their representatives have the right to file a medical malpractice claim to seek compensation for the damages they suffered because of the provider’s negligence.
Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death occurs when an individual or entity’s negligence leads to another person’s death. Medical malpractice is among the most common types of wrongful death claims. The list also includes deaths related to motor vehicle and work-related accidents; defective products, such as industrial equipment and machinery or children’s toys; and premise liability, which can occur if a person dies from a hazardous condition on someone else’s property.
When Medical Malpractice Results in a Wrongful Death
If a death is believed to have been caused by medical malpractice, it may form the foundation of a wrongful death claim. For such a claim to be successful, liability must be established (most often with expert medical testimony) with proof of the following:
- The medical provider provided improper care
- This improper care violated or breached the standard of care for a reasonably prudent medical provider under similar circumstances
- A significant, compensable injury has occurred
- A direct connection exists between the medical provider’s violation of the standard of care and the significant injury
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In general, the immediate family members or the legal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. The rules vary by state, but generally, claimants can include the deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents. Depending on the jurisdiction and the other surviving family members, other parties that may be able to sue for wrongful death include domestic or life partners, siblings, grandparents, and other financial dependents.
In 2019 Washington state’s wrongful death laws were changed and now allow a parent or sibling to bring suit if no spouse, domestic partner, or children exist. It also allows non-U.S. resident parents or family members to bring suit.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington state is generally three years from the date of the death.
There can be exceptions and nuances to this rule. For example, when the wrongful death was caused by medical malpractice, the statute of limitations is generally three years from when the malpractice occurred or one year from the date the malpractice was discovered, whichever is later. Those specialized rules for medical malpractice cases may impact some of the claims that would typically be brought simultaneously as the wrongful death case.
Consult With an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
The statute of limitations for a medical malpractice case that resulted in a wrongful death claim can be complex. If you are considering filing such a lawsuit, it’s best to consult with an attorney who can guide the specific statutes of limitations that may be involved and any other relevant legal requirements for the claim.
Menzer Law Can Help
Attorney Matt Menzer is a highly-skilled, respected, and compassionate lawyer who has represented people injured by medical malpractice and wrongful death for over 30 years. You can count on Matt to protect your rights and help you achieve maximum compensation for your injuries and damages. If you or someone you love was seriously injured because a healthcare provider failed to meet their duty of care, contact Menzer Law at 206.903.1818 or fill out this online form, and our team will review your claim at no cost to you.
Disclaimer: This content is written for educational purposes and is intended to provide general information and understanding of the law. The information should not be as a substitute of legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.