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Suing a Hospital for Wrongful Death

The unexpected death of a loved one is traumatic for many reasons, especially when your loved one died because of a preventable mistake a medical professional made. Suppose your loved one died while in the hospital; you might also end up suing a hospital for wrongful death. Holding the appropriate parties responsible for your loss can give you some measure of relief. 

In your time of grief, turn to the law firm you can trust. Gerling Law has over 50 years of collective experience achieving the results our clients deserve. Contact our office for a free case review today. We offer nationwide representation and make ourselves available 24/7 to take your call.

What Happens When a Doctor Causes the Death of a Patient?

Doctors are human and make mistakes. When doctors make mistakes, however, their patients can lose their lives. If your loved one died due to a doctor’s negligence, you could have the right to sue the doctor under your state’s wrongful death statute. 

Wrongful death laws can vary from state to state, so it’s critically important that you talk to a skilled and experienced wrongful death attorney right away to protect your rights. 

Your state’s wrongful death law dictates who can file a wrongful death claim. Typically, only people with a specific relationship to your deceased family member can file a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, the spouse and children of the deceased can typically file a wrongful death claim. However, the deceased’s parents or siblings usually cannot if the person died while married or with children. In some states, a personal representative of the deceased’s estate files the claim on behalf of the estate. The personal representative distributes the financial recovery, if any, according to state law. 

The amount of time you have to bring a wrongful death lawsuit also varies from state to state. In some jurisdictions, you can have up to three years after your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. You might have only two years in other jurisdictions. These are strict time limits that apply to every case. You will lose your chance to find justice for your family and loved ones if time runs out. When you contact Gerling Law about your wrongful death claim, we will give your case the attention you’d expect from a law firm with over 50 years of helping people recover from their losses.

Is the Hospital Liable for Wrongful Death?

The answer to this important question depends on the circumstances of your loved one’s death—and the relationship between the doctor and the hospital. The hospital would be liable for any wrongful death caused by the negligence of its employees. The question becomes whether an employee of the hospital is at fault. 

Under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer bears liability for its employee’s negligence. The hospital would be liable for the employee’s negligence in cases such as:

  • Misdiagnosing an illness or disease;
  • Contributing to the death of mother or child during childbirth;
  • Prescribing the wrong medication;
  • Administering medication incorrectly; and
  • Committing an error during surgery.

The hospital could have liability in these circumstances. 

Determining when a doctor is an employee is not always clear-cut. Just because a doctor has “privileges” at a hospital does not mean the doctor is an employee of the hospital. The doctor might have a contract with the hospital to treat patients or use its operating theater. 

Typically, doctors are independent contractors of the hospital. Independent contractors are not employees. Therefore, the doctrine of respondeat superior would not apply. If that’s the case, the hospital might not be liable for your loved one’s wrongful death. 

When Are Hospitals Liable for Wrongful Death?

Hospitals employ many people in a variety of positions that also treat patients. Unlike most doctors, nurses are hospital employees. Nurses owe a duty of care to their patients distinct from the doctor’s duty of care. A breach of that duty of care that ends in death implicates the hospital as a responsible party. 

Nurses commit malpractice by:

  • Not monitoring the patients’ vitals correctly;
  • Making an error while charting a patient’s record or misreading a patient’s chart;
  • Incorrectly medicating the patient; or
  • Failing to report changing symptoms or a patient’s declining health to the physician in charge.

A hospital is liable for the negligence of other employees like medical assistants, x-ray techs, and others who treat patients. 

Hospitals are also liable for their own mistakes. You can hold a hospital accountable for negligently hiring or retaining an employee. Hospitals are also responsible for ensuring all patients’ safety while maintaining adequate and competent staff.

What’s the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice?

The primary difference between wrongful death and medical malpractice is the victim’s injury. In other words, a wrongful death suit is a medical malpractice case where the victim died. Another significant difference between the two causes of action relates to who files the lawsuit. As discussed above, your state’s wrongful death law determines who can file the lawsuit. Conversely, the plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit is the injured patient.

The damage award in a medical malpractice lawsuit will also differ from a wrongful death suit. The relevant wrongful death statute will specify the damages you could recover. In a medical practice case, the plaintiff can recover non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Wrongful death statutes frequently do not permit recovery for the deceased’s pain and suffering. 

Is Suing a Hospital for Wrongful Death the Right Move for You?

With over 5 decades of experience recovering over winning $500 million for our clients, Gerling Law knows what it takes to maximize your recovery. You don’t need to know if you should or should not sue a hospital. It’s our job to figure that out. When you call our office at 866-422-0624, we put your best interests ahead of everything else. We want you to focus on your family and healing from your loss. We will take care of the rest. Start by calling our office for a free case review today. We are here 24/7 to help you fight for the compensation you deserve.

Author Photo

Gayle Gerling Pettinga

Born and raised in Evansville, Gayle is a respected, experienced lawyer and a valued community leader. She graduated near the top of her class at Indiana University’s prestigious Maurer School of Law. She’s practiced law with one of the largest firms in Indianapolis as well as one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. And that means she knows how big law firms and big companies think and how they operate – and she will put that knowledge to work for you.

Gayle has received numerous awards and honors including Martindale-Hubbell — Peer Review Rated: AV®, American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorneys in Indiana for Exceptional and Outstanding Client Service, and YWCA Evansville 100 Years, 100 Women Honoree, 2011.

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