What is Wrongful Death and How Does it Differ from Medical Malpractice?

A wrongful death may be the result of medical malpractice but it isn’t always the case. Where medical malpractice deals with issues caused by medical negligence, wrongful death cases can be a result of negligence or misconduct that may have occurred outside the healthcare setting. Wrongful death cases are deeply rooted in the burdens of emotional and financial stress resulting from the loss of a loved one. 

Can you file a wrongful death case?

Laws regarding who can bring forth a wrongful death case vary by state. You can usually file a claim if you are a parent, child, sibling, or spouse of the deceased. In many cases, grandparents and domestic life partners can also file a claim. Individuals who were financially tied to the deceased are also considered. An administrator of the estate of the deceased, which is the person responsible for the deceased person’s property rights, needs to be the party bringing the lawsuit. You can speak to an attorney to determine if you are the administrator of your relative’s estate.

Do you have a wrongful death case?

You may have a wrongful death case if you’ve lost a loved one to negligence or misconduct. This negligence and misconduct includes, but is not limited to:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Automobile accidents
  • Defective products
  • Workplace accidents
  • Manslaughter 
  • Recalled products
  • Birth injuries
  • Drowning
  • Pedestrian accidents

What kind of damages can you claim in a wrongful death case?

Claimable damages can include everything from pain and suffering, to loss of benefits of future earnings, to funeral expenses. Other examples of claimable damages include:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses for completed treatment
  • Loss of financial support
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship (in cases of spouse loss)
  • Loss of nurturing (in cases of parent loss)
  • Reduction in potential inheritance

Is there a statute of limitations?

Statutes of limitations are laws that limit the amount of time that can pass before an individual takes legal action. For example, in South Carolina, a wrongful death case must be opened within three years of the negligent event or death. In Virginia, the statute of limitations expires after two years if no legal action was taken. Typically, statutes of limitations for wrongful death cases range from 1 to 5 years from the date of death. 

Are there financial limits or caps?

Financial limits, otherwise known as “state caps,” limit the amount of any potential compensatory damages reward. These caps limit either financial damages, non-financial damages, or both, depending on the state. The state of Maryland, for example, has no cap on financial damages but caps non-financial damages, which usually means pain and suffering.