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What Is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death?

A medical malpractice lawsuit can recover damages for injuries and losses caused by a medical error. A wrongful death lawsuit is for the family and beneficiaries to recover damages when their loved one is no longer alive to file their own claim. Both types of civil claims can help injury victims and their families recover compensation after a medical injury.

If you suspect something went wrong during a medical procedure, it can be difficult to know for sure until you contact a medical malpractice lawyer for help. If a loved one suffered an injury, it may be even more difficult to get answers. When a loved one passes away after a medical procedure, what options do you have to get answers and make sure the people who made the mistakes are held accountable?

A civil lawsuit may be your best option to recover damages and get accountability. A civil lawsuit can help you get a financial award to compensate you and your family for the injuries. A lawsuit may also make sure those responsible for the injuries are identified. This could also help other families avoid a similar outcome. If you want to know more about your options after a medical error, contact a medical malpractice law firm for help.

Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death

Medical malpractice claims and wrongful death claims are both types of civil lawsuits or “tort” actions. A tort is a legal term for a wrongful act. In most medical malpractice and wrongful death claims, the tort is based on negligence. A claim may also be based on strict liability, which could include an injury or death caused by a defective medical device or defective medication. 

Medical malpractice cases are personal injury claims for injuries suffered through a hospital, doctor, or other healthcare professional’s negligence or omissions. This could include failing to follow proper safety procedures, using improper delivery techniques, or failing to diagnose cancer. In a medical malpractice case, the patient suffers an injury or damage caused by medical negligence. 

The main difference between a medical malpractice claim and a wrongful death claim is that for a wrongful death case, the injury victim has died. Without wrongful death laws, the person who caused the fatal accident may not be held financially responsible for their actions because the injury victim was no longer alive. A wrongful death claim allows someone else to stand in for the victim to hold them responsible for their negligence. 

Some cases involve both medical malpractice and wrongful death. For example, when a patient is undergoing surgery and the anesthesiologist makes an error that causes the patient to have a heart attack and die, the patient may have died because of medical malpractice and the family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim because the patient died. 

There are important differences between these types of cases, including filing requirements, time limits for filing, and damages available. It is important to understand the differences of each type of case to make sure you are making the best choice in your situation. Contact a local medical malpractice lawyer to get legal advice about your case.

When to File a Medical Malpractice Claim

You can file a medical malpractice claim after you have suffered an injury or harm because of an error caused by a doctor, hospital, or medical professional. Medical malpractice cases are complicated and can take years before they ever get to court. But don’t be dissuaded from making a claim because there are important reasons to go forward with your case. 

A medical malpractice claim will compensate you for your losses. The damages of an injury can be much greater than you realize. Damages do not just include the cost of medical bills or medication after an error, it can include any days off of work, emotional distress, and physical pain. Even if you do not think the injury is that serious now, it could have long-lasting effects. If you never file a claim and end up with chronic pain or disabilities, it may be too late. 

When to File a Wrongful Death Claim

After the death of a loved one, filing a lawsuit may be the last thing on your mind. It can be very traumatic to lose someone. It can be even more difficult if you find out the death may have been preventable. Many family members of negligence victims fail to come forward because they have doubts about proving their case or because they do not want to go through the painful experience of talking about the medical injuries of a loved one. 

However, there is an important reason to come forward after a fatal injury. A wrongful death claim can make sure those responsible are held accountable. After a malpractice or wrongful death award, the doctor, hospital, and health care industry may take the situation more seriously. It could cause a hospital to institute safety checks or new policies to help prevent others from having to suffer a similar injury. 

A wrongful death lawsuit can also help your family through a financially difficult time. Your family may be dealing with medical bills, the costs of a funeral, and loss of income and benefits from a parent. A wrongful death claim can help your family financially and provide for the future. 

How Much Time to File a Lawsuit?

There is a time limit to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death or medical malpractice. The time limit is known as the statute of limitations. Each state has its own statute of limitations laws and they may vary based on the type of claim. There are also exceptions for some injuries that were discovered after the fact or where the injury victim is a minor. Time limits may also be reduced when claims are made against government agencies or workers. 

It is important to talk to a medical malpractice lawyer in your state to make sure your claim is filed in time. If your case is filed even one day late, you may lose out on the chance to recover any damages. Time is of the essence in a personal injury, medical malpractice, or wrongful death claim. 

Chicago Medical Error Claims and Wrongful Death

If you are injured in a medical malpractice injury in Chicago, the statute of limitations generally gives you 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit against the doctor, hospital, or healthcare provider. Injury victims may have additional time if their injury was not discovered until a later date. However, no claim can be brought more than 4 years from the date the medical error occurred.

A wrongful death claim has to be filed within 2 years from the date of death. In Illinois, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate.

Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death in Baltimore

In Maryland, a medical malpractice claim must be filed within five years of the date the injury occurred, or within three years from the date the injury was discovered, whichever is earlier. Most medical injury victims only have 3 years to file their claim from the time of the negligent medical treatment, unless they discover it later.

For injury victims who are under the age of 18, the Maryland statute of limitations does not begin to run until the child turns 18. This means that for most medical malpractice cases involving a child, the injury victim has until their 21st birthday to file a claim. 

If a loved one was fatally injured because of a medical malpractice error, family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims in Maryland must be filed within three years of the death of the patient or within three years of when the patient should have discovered the injury.

Filing a Medical Malpractice or Wrongful Death Claim in Philadelphia

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations puts a time limit on your ability to file a lawsuit. For most medical malpractice claims, the injury victim has up to 2 years from the date of the medical injury to file a claim. The injury victim may have additional time if the injury was not reasonably known at the time but there is a 7-year statute of repose, with limited exceptions.

For a fatal injury caused by negligence or medical malpractice, a wrongful death claim must be filed within 2 years from the date of death. 

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

After a loved one dies because of negligence, how is the negligent party supposed to compensate the family? No amount of money will bring the person back. The losses to the family may include more than just the financial loss of a loved one but the family will lose out on the support, guidance, and love of part of the family. Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are intended to compensate the beneficiaries for the loss of life, and can include: 

  • Medical expenses (for treatment after the injury until death)
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial costs
  • Loss of financial support
  • Loss of health benefits
  • Loss of services (such as cooking, cleaning, and other contributions to the family unit)
  • Loss of parental guidance
  • Emotional trauma

Survival Action

A survival action is a separate cause of action after a death caused by negligence. A survival action is filed by the estate of the deceased, acting for the person who is no longer able to speak up for themselves. The damages in a survival action are similar but they generally involve cases where the victim survived for some period between the negligent act and death. 

If someone died instantly after a surgical error, damages may be limited to medical bills and funeral expenses. However, if the patient suffered a medical error and was in pain for hours, days, or weeks before dying, a survival action may be able to recover the noneconomic damages for pain and suffering during the period before the victim passed away. 

Damages in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit are supposed to compensate the victim for their injuries and losses. Even if it may be impossible to reverse the damage, compensatory damages are intended to put you into a similar position you would have been in but for the accident. In most med mal cases, damages will include both economic damages and noneconomic damages. 

Economic Damages in a Medical Accident Claim

Economic damages include the financial losses and costs of a medical injury. Common economic damages in a medical malpractice case include:

  • Medical bills 
  • Loss of wages
  • Loss of earning potential
  • Future medical care

Economic damages include the costs you have paid, outstanding bills, and the future costs of the injury. For example, if a medical error will require lifelong care, the damages should include the continuing costs associated with the injury, even if they last for the rest of the injury victim’s life. 

Non-economic Damages for Medical Errors

Non-economic damages include losses and damages that do not always have an obvious dollar amount. For example, if your car is damaged in a car accident, the damages would be valued at the cost to repair or replace the vehicle. If your foot is amputated because of a medical error, what is the cost of the loss of a body part? What is the cost to the victim to know they can no longer run or enjoy life in the same way, or to be constantly reminded of the doctor’s error every time they look down at their amputated limb? 

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, non-economic damages may include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Loss of a limb or body part
  • Paralysis
  • Disfigurement and scarring

Are There Caps on Damages for Wrongful Death or Medical Malpractice?

A cap is the maximum that can be awarded for damages. Some states have a cap on certain types of damages. In Illinois, caps on medical malpractice damages have been deemed unconstitutional and are not allowed. Other states, including Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, do not have a cap on med mal or wrongful death damages. Unfortunately for injury victims in Maryland, there is a cap on noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit and for wrongful death damages. 

What Is the Next Step in My Malpractice or Wrongful Death Claim?

This page is intended to give you an overview of the difference between a medical malpractice case and a wrongful death claim. However, each case is unique and you should talk to an experienced attorney to understand your rights and options going forward. A call to a medical malpractice law firm can help answer your questions, understand what kind of claim you might have, and give you an idea of how much your case may be worth. 

If you have questions about your injury or a family member’s death, call an experienced law medical malpractice law firm. Medical malpractice attorneys can answer your questions and guide you through the process. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after a fatal medical injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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