What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Case Involving Medical Malpractice in Washington State?

by | Jan 28, 2024 | Medical Malpractice, Wrongful Death

Those who choose a career in medicine, be it as doctors, nurses, or physician’s assistants, are driven by a commitment to improving their patient’s quality of life, adhering to the fundamental oath of doing no harm. Yet, despite their dedication, medical errors do occur, sometimes leading to significant consequences for patients. In these instances, victims have the right to seek justice through a medical malpractice claim to address the physical and emotional toll of such incidents. It’s important to acknowledge that while it’s the exception, medical malpractice can occur in healthcare, underscoring the need for accountability and understanding.

Distinguishing Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death

First, it’s helpful to understand the legal differences between medical malpractice suits and wrongful death claims. Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional (such as a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other healthcare worker) fails to uphold the standard of care required by their profession, and their failure to provide the standard of care harms or injures the patient. When this happens, the injured party or their loved ones may file a medical malpractice claim against the at-fault party to recover compensation for the damages they suffered at the hands of the negligent or reckless healthcare provider.

Wrongful death claims apply to all types of incidents in which a negligent party’s actions cause the death of another. Although medical malpractice can cause wrongful death, there are many other types of wrongful death cases. Auto accidents, defective products, premises liability, and other incidents in which a person dies because of another party’s negligence or recklessness may qualify as wrongful death claims. Coping with the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one is difficult enough—reach out to an experienced and compassionate Washington wrongful death lawyer to review your options for taking action against the at-fault party and recovering the compensation you need to move through the aftermath of this profound loss.

Wrongful Death Resulting From Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can cause all kinds of injuries to patients. In some cases, a healthcare professional’s reckless or negligent actions may result in a patient’s death. If you have reason to believe that your loved one passed away because of a doctor or healthcare worker’s actions, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against this negligent party. As you move forward with your wrongful death claim, it’s essential to recognize the four core elements of a successful claim, each of which is discussed below. Your wrongful death attorney will work with you to identify and present proof of the following elements.

Establishing Duty of Care

First, you will need to demonstrate that the medical professional owed a legal duty to their patient. As their doctor or nurse, they had an obligation to care for the patient and not cause them harm. Your attorney can help you gather and present evidence that the victim and the medical professional were in an official doctor-patient relationship at the time of the incident.

The Medical Professional Breached the Duty of Care

Next, you will need to show that the medical professional failed to uphold their duty of care. For example, a doctor who misdiagnosed a fatal condition or who made a surgical error may have violated the standard of care. Essentially, you and your attorney must provide evidence that the doctor or healthcare professional failed to uphold the duty of care in some way.

The Breach of Care Directly Led to the Patient’s Death

Once you have established that there was an existing doctor-patient relationship between the at-fault party and your loved one and that the medical provider violated the duty of care they owed to the patient, you must draw a direct connection between the medical provider’s violation of the standard of care and the patient’s loss of life. For instance, you can rely on testimony from expert witnesses to prove that the doctor’s error put the patient’s safety at risk and, ultimately, caused their death. This element is often the most challenging to prove, so enlist the guidance of a trusted and experienced Washington wrongful death attorney to help you strengthen your claim.

The Doctor’s Actions Resulted in Significant, Compensable Harm

Although nothing can bring your loved one back, winning a wrongful death lawsuit allows you to recover compensation (also called damages) to account for this sudden and tragic loss. Losing a loved one not only wreaks havoc on your emotional well-being, but their death can be financially devastating as well. Losing a spouse or parent who served as the primary source of your household’s income can be especially frightening, as you can no longer rely on this stable economic foundation. Your attorney will assess the details of your case to determine the amount of damages to pursue for the complex and devastating impact of this inexplicable loss.

How to Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington

The death of a loved one is among one of the most disorienting and excruciating experiences a person can go through during their lifetime. However, when the death was preventable and occurred because a medical professional failed to uphold the duty of care they owed to your loved one, this loss can be all the more devastating. It’s natural to experience a wide range of emotions in the face of such a senseless loss. Many family members feel angry at the party whose negligence took the life of the person they loved. As you work through the emotional aspects of this life-altering event, it can be helpful to convert your outrage into action by filing a wrongful death claim on behalf of your loved one. Below are some tips for initiating a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington State to help you take a stand against the negligent medical provider and recover the compensation you need to start rebuilding your life in the wake of tragedy.

Parties Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington

Washington’s wrongful death laws only allow certain individuals to pursue wrongful death claims. Generally speaking, immediate family members or the legal representative of the deceased patient’s estate may file a wrongful death claim. Washington allows spouses, domestic partners, and parents to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their loved one. In 2019, Washington updated its laws to allow the victim’s parent or sibling to pursue a wrongful death claim if no spouse, domestic partner, or children exist. Moreover, non-U.S. resident parents or family members are also entitled to file a lawsuit against the medical provider whose negligence caused the death of their loved one.

Washington’s Statute of Limitations For Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Like many states, Washington imposes a statute of limitations that restricts the amount of time a person has to file a wrongful death claim. Most people have three years from the date of the patient’s death in which to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. Once the three-year statute of limitations has expired, you may no longer take legal action against the at-fault party. However, there are some exceptions to the three-year statute of limitations. For example, for wrongful death claims 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 occurred later. It’s best to discuss the details of your case with a knowledgeable and empathetic wrongful death lawyer to identify the most appropriate and strategic path forward.

Seek Out the Support of a Compassionate Attorney Today

There’s no way around it—losing a loved one is a devastating experience. However, you do not have to go through this overwhelming experience on your own. When you enlist the services of a dedicated and caring Washington wrongful death attorney, you can feel more supported and empowered to make critical decisions with greater confidence. Your attorney will help you identify the most effective legal strategy to hold the at-fault party accountable. Together, you can move through each step of the claims process to obtain the compensation you need to start putting the pieces of your life back together.

If your loved one lost their life because of a negligent or reckless healthcare worker, you may have the right to file a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party. Contact Menzer Law today at (206) 903-1818 for a complimentary review of your case.