What Is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death?

When medical negligence causes the untimely death of a patient, the surviving family members may mistakenly conflate medical malpractice with wrongful death. Medical malpractice can cause wrongful death, and the process of securing compensation for wrongful death is largely the same for medical malpractice as with any other cause of wrongful death. However, state laws come into play and can significantly influence the total compensation available to a wrongful death claimant.

Defining Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is the term for a medical professional’s failure to provide an acceptable standard of care for a patient, resulting in harm to the patient. For every known medical condition and disease there is an acceptable standard of care determined by the medical community. Medicine is inherently uncertain and new research appears all the time, so there is an inherent margin of error in treating any given patient. Some medical mistakes are honest, reasonable, and unavoidable.

Medical malpractice is more than a mistake; it indicates a failure to take appropriate action on behalf of a patient when another similarly skilled professional in the same situation could have avoided patient harm. There are many types of medical malpractice that can lead to lawsuits.

  • Informed consent violations occur when physicians recommend treatments without fully explaining the potential risks and benefits of a suggestion. Patients have the right to make informed choices about their healthcare.
  • Incompetence can lead to a lawsuit if a doctor injures a patient while performing a procedure or attempts a procedure without proper training or certification.
  • Dangerous drugs can lead to lawsuits when prescribing doctors fail to account for potentially dangerous interactions with existing prescriptions or patient drug allergies.
  • Surgical mistakes, such as nicking an artery during surgery or operating on the wrong body part, may also lead to medical malpractice claims.
  • Misdiagnosis, or failing to accurately diagnose a patient, is one of the most common causes of medical malpractice claims. Delayed or inaccurate diagnoses can cause a patient to undergo serious treatments needlessly or miss the opportunity to receive important treatments before a condition worsens.

These are not to be confused with wrongful death practices. To learn more about your specific case, speak to a Houston wrongful death lawyer today.

When Medical Malpractice Causes a Death

If medical negligence leads to the death of a patient, the patient’s surviving family or estate representative may choose to pursue a medical malpractice claim against the responsible party for the wrongful death. Essentially, a medical malpractice claim for wrongful death is functionally identical to a medical malpractice claim for a nonfatal injury or illness, but the amount of compensation varies, depending on state law. The claimant will still need to go through the same process of proving medical negligence in a claim for wrongful death. This involves proving an official doctor-patient relationship existed between the deceased and the defendant and proving the defendant’s negligence was the sole cause of the deceased’s death.

State Laws for Medical Malpractice Claims

Each state has different laws pertaining to medical malpractice claims and wrongful death claims. A wrongful death claim from medical malpractice is technically beholden to both; only certain parties qualify for filing wrongful death claims and there is a statute of limitations in each state that determines the time limit for filing such claims. State laws also determine what kinds of compensation are available for both medical malpractice lawsuits and wrongful death claims. For example, some states cap or limit the amount of non-economic recovery available in a medical malpractice claim for damages like pain and suffering or loss of consortium.

Navigating a medical malpractice lawsuit for wrongful death can be incredibly difficult without experienced legal representation. Find a wrongful death or medical malpractice attorney with experience in cases similar to yours to find out how to approach these difficult situations. An attorney can help you understand the damages available in your claim and what to expect from a lawsuit.

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