Suing for Wrongful Death: Legal Overview
When Can You Sue for Wrongful Death of a Loved One?

When Can You Sue for Wrongful Death of a Loved One?

Rachel Olszewski
Rachel Olszewski

Losing a family member is a terrible thing, but losing them because medical professionals didn’t do their jobs can be even worse. You go to a hospital or other healthcare facility expecting to be treated with the utmost care and respect. When you’re not, you can sustain serious injury or in the worst cases, death. Medical professionals can’t save everyone, but if you feel your loved one passed away because of medical malpractice rather than something else, you may have a wrongful death case.

Wrongful death means that someone can be held liable for someone else’s death, but not criminally. In regards to medical malpractice, this means that your loved one wasn’t murdered, assaulted, or otherwise caused to perish because of an event before reaching the hospital. This was when they had good or even likely chances to live before reaching the hospital, but medical professionals made a mistake that caused them to die.

If this matches what happened to your loved one, you may have a case of wrongful death due to medical malpractice.

When Can You Sue For Wrongful Death by Medical Malpractice?

For a medical malpractice case to count as a wrongful death case, the loved one’s death has to stem from the medical professionals. This means that if the doctor fails to diagnose a condition they should have been able to, acted negligently, or provided careless care that leads to someone’s death, then the loved one’s family may have a wrongful death case.

Some situations are harder than others to argue, for example, proving that a doctor should have been able to diagnose an uncommon or extreme condition may not be a strong argument. Acting negligently may be hard to argue if the hospital is overflowing or understaffed in an emergency. In that instance, there may always be someone who was neglected. Careless care is arguably the least complicated because it involves the medical professional acting unprofessionally, such as being openly cruel or under the influence.

Examples of these situations include:

  • Anesthesia errors
  • Birth injuries
  • Impaired physician
  • Medication errors
  • Plastic surgery
  • Radiology errors
  • Retained sponge cases
  • Surgical mistakes
  • Wrong site surgery

Can a Doctor Go to Jail in a Wrongful Death Case?

Wrongful death cases, despite the severity of the case, never directly lead to someone going to prison. Wrongful death cases are civil cases, which means you are suing for damages. The person you’re suing would have to pay you financial compensation, give you some piece of property, or give you some kind of property of equal value.

Criminal cases determine whether someone goes to jail, and only government entities raise criminal cases against people. Civil cases can reveal evidence that leads to a criminal case, but a doctor will not go to jail or prison as an outcome of a wrongful death case.

Who Do You Sue For Medical Malpractice that Leads to Death?

When your loved one passes away because of medical malpractice, there may be some confusion as to whether you’re supposed to file a suit against the doctor or the hospital. Technically, you can legally file a lawsuit against either one, but we recommend the hospital.

The hospital is the doctor’s employer and is ultimately responsible for them. This is true even if they were serving at the hospital temporarily. A hospital is also capable of paying damages, which a doctor may not be able to should you win your case. Another case against the hospital is that many cases of negligence can be due to hospital policies, mismanaged teams, lacking resources, or overworked medical professionals. This would place the blame on the hospital administration for setting their professionals up to make a mistake.

What Should You Do After Losing a Loved One to Medical Malpractice?

You should take the time to properly grieve and mourn the loss of your loved one. Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for wrongful death is two years, so you can take several months to decide whether you want to sue.

The moment you’re ready, contact the wrongful death attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski P.C. We have the experience to help you get the compensation you need to support yourself and to punish the medical institution that caused your loved one’s death.

Rachel Olszewski
Rachel Olszewski

Rachel D. Olszewski, an attorney at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., is a dedicated advocate for clients who have suffered unjust harm. Following the legacy of her esteemed family members, Rachel specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense. She is actively involved in professional associations and serves on the board of the Luzerne County Bar Association Charitable Foundation. Rachel is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania state courts and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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