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Can a Relative Sue for a Death in a Medical Malpractice Case?

Losing a loved one can impact your emotional, psychological, and financial well-being.  When that loss was caused by medical malpractice, it can only make matters more difficult.  You deserve to know your legal options for recovery to deal with your devastating loss.

Family members of a medical malpractice victim who passed away as a result of the malpractice will likely be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party.  Each state has its own laws that govern who can file and recover for a wrongful death lawsuit, but typically, spouses, children, and parents will always be able to recover.  Every state also has laws that dictate when you can file your suit, so it is in your best interest to speak with a lawyer today.

The experienced Baltimore medical malpractice wrongful death attorneys at Bennett & Heyman recognize how devastating the loss of a loved one can be.  We can help you assess the legal options at your disposal to determine whether you might benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit.  Call us today for free to hear more at (410) 429-7856.

Who Can Recover in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for Medical Malpractice?

The parties who can be named as beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from medical malpractice will ultimately depend on the state that you are in and the applicable laws.  Each state has its own guidelines on who is allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Generally, any spouse, children, and parents of the deceased will be permitted to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit, regardless of the state.  You can name as many beneficiaries as are available in your wrongful death lawsuit.  Beneficiaries may also elect not to participate in the lawsuit, which will not necessarily harm the chances of recovery but may affect the total damages that you can obtain.  Most states have laws that require the plaintiffs to make best efforts to identify and notify all potential beneficiaries prior to filing the lawsuit.

When it comes to extended family, the law becomes more complicated.  Many states operate under different guidelines for if and when they will allow relatives to file a wrongful death lawsuit.  Some states require that the relative in question must have been financially dependent on the deceased.  Others break down potential beneficiaries into two tiers, sometimes called “primary” and “secondary” beneficiaries, and only allow secondary beneficiaries to file a wrongful death suit if there is no living primary beneficiary.

Someone has to actually file and put their name on the lawsuit.  In some states, this person has to be the administrator of the estate, a personal representative of the deceased, or the executor named in the will.  In that case, the lawsuit will pay damages to the beneficiaries or the estate, but this representative is the one who is actually listed as the plaintiff.  Other states allow the surviving family to file directly.

The only way to determine for sure who can file or be named as a beneficiary in a wrongful death lawsuit is to speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney like the ones as Bennett & Heyman, who will be familiar the law and can help you assess your opportunity to recover for your loss.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit vs. a Survival Action?

Wrongful death lawsuits are usually brought on behalf of the deceased’s family members who experienced damages as a result of the death.  The suit is brought against the party or parties responsible for the death of their loved one.  It is helpful to think of a wrongful death lawsuit as you would think of a personal injury lawsuit, with the only difference being that the damages are based on the consequences to the family members.  Wrongful death lawsuits compensate the victim’s families for their harms, such as their loss of companionship, mentorship, or expected income.  The compensation from a wrongful death suit goes directly to the beneficiaries named in the lawsuit.

In contrast, some states also allow for a separate survival action.  Survival actions are brought on behalf of the deceased’s estate rather than the family members.  Damages for survival actions may differ from those in wrongful death lawsuits because they are based on the harms to the deceased.  Depending on the state that you are in, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit even if there is already a pending survival action on the same issue.

Damage Caps on Wrongful Death Lawsuits for Medical Malpractice

Some states have laws in place that limit the amount of damages that you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit.  These caps are particularly common in instances where medical malpractice was the cause of the death.

The caps typically apply to a specific type of damages for wrongful death lawsuits: non-economic damages.  These damages are based not on the direct expenses that the death caused, such as funeral costs, but on the pain and suffering that the beneficiaries have and will experience.

Some states place their limit on a sliding scale to account for cases with higher numbers of beneficiaries.  A few states have laws that portion the verdict or settlement amount to specific family members according to their relationship with the deceased.  For instance, the deceased’s spouse might be entitled to a different percentage than the deceased’s children.

Our medical malpractice wrongful death lawyers can work through your state’s laws with you to help you estimate the value of your potential claim and implement strategies to put you in the best position to recover for your loss.

How Long Can You Wait to Sue for a Death in a Medical Malpractice Case?

You may be noticing a trend here: each state has its own law, called the statute of limitations, that governs how long you have to file your wrongful death lawsuit.  Most states, like Maryland, give plaintiffs three years from the date of the death to file the wrongful death claim.  However, it is important that you identify the appropriate statute of limitations in your case.  You may have as many as six years or as few as one.

If you were defrauded by the responsible party about the nature of the medical malpractice as the cause of death, you may fit into an exception that is available in some states.  If the beneficiaries were not aware of the wrongful act that caused the death due to actions on the part of the defendant, this may be grounds for pausing the statute of limitations until the wrongful act was discovered.  Even if you believe that you are outside the statute of limitations, talk to one of our medical malpractice wrongful death lawyers today.

Hear More About Suing for Wrongful Death Due to Medical Malpractice Today

At Bennett & Heyman, our medical malpractice wrongful death lawyers offer free initial consultations to clients with questions about their potential suit.  To schedule yours today, call (410) 429-7856.

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