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Can You Sue for Sudden Death of a Family Member?

Many patients go into the hospital for routine care, when it suddenly becomes something much more serious. Family members may expect to go to the hospital to pick up their loved one a few hours later only to find that the patient has taken a turn. It may come as a total shock when the family finds out their loved one has passed away. 

The shock of the immediate loss of a family member can be difficult to understand. They may have appeared to be okay only hours earlier. The first thing the family wants is answers. Unfortunately, many hospitals and doctors are not all that clear when it comes to communicating with grieving family members. 

If you cannot get answers from the health care system after the sudden death of a family member, you may have to turn to professional help. An experienced medical malpractice attorney understands how to deal with the hospitals and insurance companies to get the information you need. If something went wrong or the hospital was negligent, the family may be able to recover damages for the sudden death of a family member. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

Causes of Sudden Death and Medical Care

Sudden death is unexpected and is often caused by trauma, including car accidents, violence, fire, or other tragedies. However, some causes of death involve illness, infection, disease, or other health conditions. Patients seeking care for signs or symptoms of an illness or other treatment may go to the hospital or seek medical care. However, after admission to the hospital or clinic, the patient’s condition may take a sudden turn for the worse, leading to death. 

Some of the most common non-traumatic causes of death involve the nervous system or cardiovascular system. Causes of sudden death can include: 

Any acute event that prevents the heart from beating or stops the blood from flowing to the vital body organs, including the brain and lungs, can cause a patient to suffer permanent cell damage, brain damage, and death. Death can occur within minutes. If a patient is admitted to the hospital and not properly monitored, triaged, or diagnosed, they can walk into a hospital feeling fine and within half an hour, be found dead. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, sudden death in people under the age of 35 is often caused by undiscovered heart defects or heart abnormalities. This includes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), coronary artery abnormalities, and long QT syndrome. However, even with these rare events, there may be red flags that doctors should be aware of to identify these problems before they result in sudden death. Responding to unexplained fainting, or a history of sudden cardiac death may be a warning sign that the patient may have a possible heart condition. 

Risks of Surgery and Outpatient Surgery

There are always risks of surgery, even minor surgery. Many surgical doctors try to hide behind their informed consent forms which provide that there are risks of surgery, which include death. However, when the death or injury was caused by the surgeon’s failure to follow the medical standards of care, any deviation that causes injury or death may be medical malpractice. Even patients who are undergoing minor surgery or out-patient procedures can be the victims of medical malpractice. Possible complications of a surgery could involve:

  • A doctor performing a procedure that they are unqualified to perform
  • The use of unqualified medical assistance
  • Using improperly sterilized surgical devices
  • Operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Failure to monitor the patient
  • Failure to call for help in the event of an emergency
  • Perforation of the bowel

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia errors also occur in both major and minor surgical procedures. Even cosmetic procedures like breast augmentation or a facelift generally involve the patient getting put under with anesthetic. Anesthetic drugs can be powerful and a little too much of one drug or the wrong combination can cause cardiac arrest in the patient. Anesthesiologists need to closely monitor the vital signs of the patient throughout the procedure. Failure to follow the standards of care could result in serious injury or death. 

Death From COVID-19

Over the past couple of years, many have lost family members to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus does not affect everyone in the same way. Some people can catch it without any symptoms. For others, it can be fatal. Many people who have lost loved ones have a lot of questions, especially after the family member was treated in the hospital and died behind closed doors. 

Family members are experiencing the same lack of communication from hospitals and doctors when they only want answers. Did the hospital do enough? What treatment was provided? One of the problems with trying to hold negligent doctors accountable during the pandemic is that state lawmakers have made it more difficult to file a medical malpractice claim related to COVID. However, these liability laws do not protect hospitals against gross negligence or intentional misconduct. Talk to a professional medical malpractice attorney about your case. 

Sudden Death of an Infant

The sudden death of an infant is a traumatic experience. After 9 months of carrying a fetus to term, delivering a child who is not breathing is difficult to deal with. Even more frustrating may be the hospital’s response. The doctor may say that these things happen, or that it was out of their control. However, some fatal delivery accidents are caused by the negligence of the doctor or other healthcare workers. Causes of fatal delivery may include: 

Getting Answers From the Hospital

One of the most frustrating parts of dealing with the sudden death of a family member after medical care is trying to get answers from the hospital. There are lots of reasons that doctors, administrators, or healthcare workers will give after you ask important questions. Unfortunately, those answers may not respond to the question, may not be good enough, or may be using medical terminology that is difficult to understand. Even the most common questions you have can be difficult to be answered, including: 

  • What happened in there?
  • What was the cause of death?
  • Was there anyone with them when they died?
  • Who was responsible for the surgery?
  • When can I see my loved one?
  • Can I see the medical records?
  • What happens next?
  • Why didn’t you do more?

Many doctors, hospitals, and even the insurance company do not take family member questions seriously enough until a lawyer gets involved. Talk to a medical malpractice attorney if you are getting nowhere with the hospital. Your lawyer can help you get answers and find out your legal options for recovery. 

Did Your Loved One Refuse End-of-Life Treatment?

Many family members want the doctors and hospitals to do all they can to help their loved ones. However, for some terminally ill patients and elderly individuals, they may have chosen to limit their treatment options as part of their living will or advance directive. A living will provides for what types of medical treatment the patient does and does not want if they are unable to communicate. 

Living wills are common for older Americans and the hospital will generally defer to the patient’s identified healthcare wishes, even if other family members disagree. Generally, a living will is filled out and signed by the patient before they have to undergo emergency care. Some of the medical decisions may include whether or not to undergo: 

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Intubation
  • Dialysis
  • Palliative care (comfort care)
  • Organ and tissue donations

For example, if a loved one went into cardiac arrest and their heart stopped beating, emergency medical treatment generally involves providing CPR to try and restart the heart. However, if the patient has a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order, the emergency medical staff would likely not provide further CPR or try to restart the heart with an automated external defibrillator (AED). This can be frustrating for family members but follows the wishes of the patient.

Lawsuits After Death of a Family Member

After the death of a family member, what legal options do you have? If your loved one was alive, they could file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital for any negligent care. However, the only option for the family may be to file a wrongful death lawsuit

Filing a Claim After Death of a Loved One in Chicago

Under 740 Illinois Compiled Statutes 180, every wrongful death action “shall be brought by and in the names of the personal representatives of such deceased person, and, except as otherwise hereinafter provided, the amount recovered in every such action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin of such deceased person.”

A wrongful death lawsuit must be commenced within 2 years after the death of the individual. If the personal representative fails to file a lawsuit within 2 years, they may not be able to claim any damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. This is why it is important to contact your medical malpractice attorney as soon as you can to make sure your claim is filed in time. 

Sudden Death Lawsuits in Maryland

Families of fatal accidents in Maryland are able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to make sure the person responsible for the death of their loved one is held responsible. There is a limited amount of time to file a wrongful death claim in Maryland. This is known as the statute of limitations. Under § 3-904(g)(1) of the statute, a claim and/or lawsuit must be filed within three years after the injured person’s date of death.

A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought by a family member of the deceased. For example, the spouse, parent, or child of someone who dies in hospital care could file a wrongful death to help recover damages on behalf of the beneficiaries. 

After the Death of a Loved One in Philly

After the sudden death of a family member in Philadelphia, the family may have options to help get compensation with a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit can help the family recover for the loss of a loved one. In most cases, beneficiaries have 2 years to file a wrongful death claim. If you wait more than 2 years to file the claim, you may have your claim denied and the hospital will not be held responsible for their actions. 

Under 231 Pa. Code Rule 2202, only certain people can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased. The decedent’s personal representative may file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, if no wrongful death claim has been filed within 6 months of death, then by any person entitled by law to recover damages in such action as trustee ad litem on behalf of all persons entitled to share in the damages. Beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim may include the spouse, children, or parents.

D.C. Wrongful Death Claims

Most Washington, D.C. wrongful death claims have to be filed within 2 years of the death of the individual. However, you should not wait 2 years to take action. You should take immediate action to make sure the claim is filed in time. Your attorney may need time to identify who might be responsible, the possible causes of death, parties involved, and get enough time to review medical records.  

Under D.C. Code § 16–2702, a wrongful death claim is filed by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. A personal representative may be named in a will, or if the deceased did not leave a will, the court can appoint a personal representative. The personal representative then has 2 years to file a wrongful death action. 

Getting Help With a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

You may not know who was responsible for the death of a family member but you do not have to be 100% sure to ask for help from an experienced medical malpractice law firm. Your wrongful death attorneys can get the answers you need, and investigate the claim to determine whether the sudden death was caused by negligence. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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