Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for Medical NegligenceOctober 6, 2021
Medical malpractice can lead to wrongful death, but not all wrongful deaths result from medical malpractice. First, a definition of each is in order.
Medical malpractice is the result of a medical professional causing harm to a patient through negligent behavior. Negligent behavior is defined as failure to adhere to a standard of care that is set and accepted by the medical community. A medical professional can be a doctor, nurse, hospital, or other health care providers.
There are many examples of medical malpractice. Some of the most common include misdiagnosis; delay of treatment, often owing to misdiagnosis; anesthesia mistakes; birth-related injuries; surgical errors; and patient abuse in nursing homes or other settings.
Wrongful death is when a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional deviates from the standard of care and acts negligently, recklessly, or otherwise wrongfully, causing the patient’s death. Simply dying while under medical care does not constitute wrongful death.
Not all wrongful deaths are caused by medical malpractice. A wrongful death could result from a car accident, drowning or boating accident, felonious act such as a shooting, slip and fall accident on public or private premises, workplace injury or illness, and many other reasons.
Under Maryland law, wrongful death is defined as a death caused by: An act, neglect, or default, including a felonious act, which would have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued.
No matter the cause, wrongful death is heartbreaking for the survivors. In a medical malpractice suit, the loss may be particularly painful because it results from negligence by a trusted health care provider. A family deserves answers and compensation for such a devastating experience.
Who can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit after Medical Malpractice?
Maryland has specific rules on who can file a wrongful death claim. Eligible plaintiffs are as follows:
- Primary beneficiaries. Primary beneficiaries include the surviving spouse, parents, and children of the deceased.
- Secondary beneficiaries. These beneficiaries include the deceased’s brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces, and other relatives related by blood or marriage to the deceased.
If the deceased person had no primary beneficiaries or none are willing to bring a wrongful death claim to court, a secondary beneficiary can file a lawsuit on behalf of both primary and secondary beneficiaries.
Maryland law requires a plaintiff to include all possible beneficiaries as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, even if they do not want to participate or cannot be located. Failure to do so could result in dismissal of the case.
How Much Time Do I Have to File a Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The statute of limitations is the length of time, set by law, a person has to file a lawsuit. In Maryland, a person must file a wrongful death lawsuit within three years from the date of death.
There are exceptions to this law if the person died of an occupational disease in the course of their employment. In those cases, a lawsuit must be filed within 10 years of the date of death or within three years from the date the occupational disease was identified as the cause of death, whichever is sooner.
Who can Receive Compensation from a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits are designed to protect the dependents of the deceased. In Maryland, a deceased person’s primary beneficiaries, spouse, parents, or children, will receive any awards in a wrongful death legal action. If a primary beneficiary is alive, a secondary beneficiary cannot recover any damages.
Suppose there are no living primary beneficiaries and a secondary beneficiary files the wrongful death suit. In that case, they can recover damages if they are related by blood or marriage to the deceased and were substantially dependent on the victim.
Non-dependent secondary beneficiaries who cannot recover damages under the wrongful death claim may be able to recover compensation under a survival action. They must be blood relatives or named in the victim’s will to bring this legal action. A lawyer can provide more information.
If there are no primary or secondary beneficiaries, there is no wrongful death claim.
What Types of Damages are Possible in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Damages are the plaintiff’s claimed losses from the wrongful death. They are awarded to the deceased’s survivors to compensate for their financial and emotional losses, including their mental anguish.
In Maryland, compensation may be awarded for both economic and non-economic damages:
- Financial contributions the deceased would have made to survivors, such as lost earnings and lost employment benefits
- Medical bills related to illness and death
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish
- Loss of marital care, parental care, familial care
- Loss of society, companionship, comfort, and protection
- Loss of attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education
A court may award the damages in proportion to each person’s loss.
Maryland law caps non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in medical malpractice claims. As of 2021:
- Lawsuits filed in 2021 by a single beneficiary have a cap of $845,000 for non-economic damages.
- When medical malpractice results in wrongful death and there are two or more beneficiaries, the limit is 125 percent of the single beneficiary cap, or $1,056,250 for noneconomic damages.
- Caps increase by $15,000 every year to account for inflation.
There is no cap on economic damages in medical malpractice wrongful death claims.
How Do I Prove Wrongful Death from Medical Malpractice?
A lawyer can help develop a strong case proving the wrongful death.
Typically, they must prove the following elements in a wrongful death case:
- Duty of care. The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person. For example, in medical malpractice, the doctor owed the deceased person a standard of care set by the medical community.
- Breach of duty of care. The defendant breached the duty of care. In a medical malpractice claim, that means they deviated from the standard of care and acted negligently, recklessly, or wrongfully.
- Causation. The breached duty of care directly caused the wrongful death. The plaintiff’s lawyer must show a direct correlation between the breach and the person’s death.
In Maryland, the plaintiff must prove the elements of negligence by a preponderance of evidence, which means there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the claim is valid. A judge or jury will decide whether the plaintiff has met this burden of proof if a pre-trial agreement has not been reached.
What Should I Do if My Loved One’s Death was from Medical Malpractice?
Although you will be grieving the loss of your loved one, you hope that death resulting from a medical provider’s negligence will not go unnoticed. Even if the medical professional made an honest mistake they regret, they have still affected your or your family’s financial and emotional health. Do not allow this to happen to other victims.
An excellent first step is to consult with a lawyer who has experience in wrongful death and medical malpractice. They can listen to your story and make an initial determination on whether you have a case. If you do, you can rest assured that they will help you navigate the complexities of a wrongful death claim, including gathering the evidence to prove the medical malpractice.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims Affected by Negligence
Medical malpractice can have serious consequences, including wrongful death. If you or a loved one experienced injury or died because of the negligent actions of a health care professional, the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton want to hear your story. Our team will handle your case with the care and compassion it deserves. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.