What Is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death?

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If medical malpractice results in a patient’s death, the patient’s family members may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Wrongful death, however, is not always grounds for a medical malpractice claim. Understanding the important differences between these two separate types of claims can help you find the right attorney and file a claim for your damages.

Medical Malpractice vs. Wrongful Death Claims

Medical malpractice is the failure of a health care practitioner to provide the correct standards of care to a patient, resulting in patient injuries or death. Wrongful death is the death of a person by another’s neglect or wrongful acts. If medical malpractice causes a patient’s death, surviving family members will most likely have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. The lawsuit may involve elements of a medical malpractice suit, such as proving that a physician did not meet the standards of care, but it will follow the statutory rules of a wrongful death claim.

If medical malpractice does not result in death, the patient or his or her family members may still be able to file a medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice claim involving nonfatal injuries will not have to abide by the same rules as a wrongful death lawsuit in California. It will, however, have to follow other rules, such as providing notice of the intent to sue before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Knowing which type of case you may have is an important first step toward obtaining compensation. Examples of medical malpractice include surgical errors, medication mistakes, misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis and birth injuries. Wrongful death can stem from medical malpractice, but it could also result from other causes such as car accidents, violence, workplace accidents and bad falls. Wrongful death cases can vary more in nature compared to medical malpractice claims.

Different Rules for Filing

One of the main reasons to differentiate medical malpractice from a wrongful death claim is to understand the laws that relate to your case. In California, as in most states, these are two very different types of lawsuits with different rules and regulations. Only certain parties may file wrongful death claims, for example, while anyone with grounds for a case may file for medical malpractice. Understanding your claim type can help you follow the correct rules.

  • Statute of limitations. The California statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death. In a medical malpractice claim, however, a plaintiff has three years from the date of injury or one year from the date of discovery.
  • Who can file. Any patient with injuries from alleged medical malpractice can file this type of claim in California. Only family members of the deceased person, such as a spouse, domestic partner or surviving child may file for wrongful death. If the decedent does not have any surviving family members, anyone who was dependent on the person may file.
  • Damages available. Damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit can include pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages and lost quality of life. Wrongful death can include damages such as loss of consortium and funeral expenses. California has a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, but no such cap in wrongful death suits.

The rules of liability and proving your claim also differ from medical malpractice vs. wrongful death lawsuits. Although your personal injury lawyer will have to prove negligence in both types of cases, different standards of care exist within each claim type. A doctor owes certain duties of care to patients, for example, whereas a wrongful death suit not related to medical negligence may involve different defendant duties. A Los Angeles personal injury lawyer can help you navigate these important differences and others depending on your type of lawsuit.