Can You Sue A Hospital For Wrongful Death?
Medical malpractice affects thousands of people every day. Hospitals and hospital staff may be sued for medical malpractice due to their negligence if they fail to take appropriate actions to treat patients.
Hospitals and medical professionals can also be sued for medical malpractice due to harm caused by intentional actions or lack of appropriate action.
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A Johns Hopkins study determined that medical errors cause more than 250,000 deaths yearly. You may wonder what options you have if you lose a loved one to a wrongful death caused by a hospital. Can you sue the physician who treated your loved one? Can you sue a hospital for wrongful death? When a hospital or hospital staff’s medical errors cause a person’s death, the decedent’s surviving family members may have legal grounds to pursue a wrongful death claim.
When is a hospital responsible for wrongful death?
Hospitals are legally responsible for wrongful death under specific circumstances. Situations where a hospital is responsible for wrongful death include the following scenarios:
- Employs a nurse whose negligence causes/contributes to a patient’s death
- Employs a physician whose negligence causes/contributes to a patient’s death
- Employs medical professional whose negligence causes/contributes to patient’s death
- Fails to maintain medical equipment
- Fails to oversee patient care
- Is negligent when hiring staff
- Is negligent when supervising staff
Types of medical negligence by healthcare professionals and by the hospital
Patients may suffer from a healthcare professional’s medical malpractice. Examples of medical negligence caused by healthcare professionals include the following:
- Documentation errors – Failing to update the patient’s chart or recording incorrect information on a patient’s chart can be grounds for a lawsuit.
- Failure to diagnose the patient – Disregarding a patient’s symptoms and failing to order tests to confirm a diagnosis may be grounds for medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits.
- Failing to monitor patients correctly – Not monitoring a patient’s vital signs correctly, failing to check for potential medical issues, and disregarding symptoms of complications when checking on patients.
- Failing to report concerns – Not notifying the attending physician of a change in a patient’s condition or signs of potential complications can be grounds to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice or wrongful death.
- Medication errors – The right amount of the correct medication must be administered at the right time in the right way. Failing to give the patient the right medication, failing to give the patient their medication at the right time, administering the medication incorrectly, and failing to give the right amount of medication are medication errors and can be grounds for a lawsuit.
- Misdiagnosis of the patient – Misdiagnosing a patient can result in harmful treatments or failure to provide effective treatment to address the patient’s condition. Family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit if misdiagnosis leads to the death of a loved one.
- Prescribing the wrong medication – Patients may suffer harmful side effects from the wrong medication, and the wrong medication will not treat their medical condition. This is similar to a medication error involving a nurse or certified medication technician administering the wrong medication; however, it’s caused by a physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner prescribing the wrong medication.
- Surgical mistakes – Surgical mistakes include leaving objects inside the patient, removing the wrong organs, or damaging nerves or other organs during surgery.
Examples of a hospital’s negligence include the following:
- Inadequate safety protocols – Hospital administrators should ensure staff wash their hands, sanitize medical equipment, and follow all proper safety protocols. Failing to introduce or enforce these protocols could be grounds for a lawsuit.
- Negligent hiring practices – The hospital may be liable if administrators don’t ensure medical professionals have valid credentials when hiring them.
- Retaining unqualified staff – Hospital administrators are responsible for terminating unqualified or incompetent employees.
- Scheduling sufficient staff – Hospitals may be liable if they fail to schedule enough staff to provide adequate patient care.
Is a hospital responsible for the medical malpractice of a non-employee?
Although it’s possible to pursue a lawsuit against a hospital for wrongful death, it takes more than establishing that your loved one died due to the negligence of a medical professional who treated them in the hospital. Physicians may be classified as independent contractors, and nurses may be contractors instead of employees. In most cases, hospitals aren’t liable for wrongful death cases stemming from the negligence of independent contractors.
Since there are many factors to consider when determining liability for the acts of independent contractors, you must consult a wrongful death attorney who can identify the at-fault parties and help you prepare your case.
Possible damages in a hospital wrongful death case
Economic damages are costs that can be calculated. These damages include the following:
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost income
- Medical bills
Non-economic damages compensate victims for how their loved one’s death impacts them personally. Non-economic damages may include compensation for the following:
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
Colorado caps the amount of non-economic damages courts can award victims at $571,870 unless the cause of death was first-degree or second-degree murder. This figure is reassessed and adjusted every other year.
Victims may seek punitive damages in some wrongful death cases. Justification for punitive damages stems from the type of negligence or misconduct causing the victim’s death. Consulting a wrongful death attorney is an excellent way to determine whether you have grounds to seek punitive damages.
Time limits for your wrongful death case
Every state establishes a statute of limitations for pursuing legal actions. The statute of limitations depends on the reason for the legal action, and the time limit may change depending on the circumstances of the case.
When a person dies a wrongful death, their family members usually have two years from the date of death to file a lawsuit.
How a wrongful death attorney can help you seek compensation for medical malpractice
Experiencing the loss of a loved one is hard enough. With the help of an experienced professional attorney, you don’t have to do it alone. At Bachus & Schanker, we’ll confirm whether you have grounds to sue a hospital for wrongful death and how much compensation you could receive from a wrongful death lawsuit. You don’t have to worry about coming up with legal fees before you pick up the phone. We’ll answer your questions and prepare your legal case, and we won’t send you a bill until we win.
Gillespie, J. (2023). Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Colorado.
Suszek, A. (2023). Medical Malpractice: Misdiagnosis and Failure to Diagnose.
Thornton, R. G. (2010). Responsibility for the acts of others.
Written and Legally Reviewed By: Kyle Bachus
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Kyle is a member of the Colorado and Florida Bar associations and has served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association for more than twenty years in total. Over the years, Kyle has achieved justice for many clients. He has served on numerous committees and repeatedly won recognition from his peers at both the state and national level. He is proud of the role he has played in the passage of state and national legislation to protect consumers and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer.