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What Happens if a Loved One Dies as a Result of Medical Malpractice

It is easy to get confused when dealing with legal jargon. Even basic concepts that most are familiar with can be difficult to grasp in the context of an actual real-world situation. For example, most people have heard of the terms “medical malpractice” and “wrongful death.” Medical malpractice is professional misconduct by doctors, nurses, and others which harm a patient. Wrongful death refers to situation where one dies because of the negligence of another. But what if a medical patient dies as a result of the errors made by their doctor? Does that mean you have a medical malpractice claim? Do you have a wrongful death claim? Both? Something else?

For starters, it is important to note that it is your attorney’s job to sort through all of the technical details to ensure the appropriate process is followed. All that really matters are the words used and procedures followed when dealing with the court. Often there are colloquial phrases used to describe types of cases or legal actions which differ slightly from the technical aspects required when filing a lawsuit.

Understanding the Basics

In general, however, if your loved one dies as a result of poor medical care, then two difference claims will likely be filed by an attorney. One is a “survival” action which seeks to provide compensation for harm suffered by the actual patient before their death. The second is the “wrongful death” claim which provides compensation directly to the surviving family members for their own suffering at losing a loved one. In most cases the term “medical malpractice” would probably be used to refer to both actions in conversation as a way of identifying the type of negligence.

Filing two claims after a death caused by medical malpractice is not at all about seeking double the recovery for a single incident. Instead, it is about compensating for two different losses. In the survival action, any damage award goes to the estate of the decedent--essentially becoming property that the individual passes on according to their inheritance wishes. Conversely, wrongful death awards go directly to the individual family members (usually spouses, children, and or parents). That is because the award is for their own personal pain and suffering.

While these are technically two separate legal claims, they do not proceed through the court system as if they have no connection to one another. Obviously the factual issues in both claims are the same, and the evidence relevant to each would be similar. Also, in Maryland legal rules related to the total amount of damages that a family can recover for pain and suffering in these cases is capped together. In other words, there is a set maximum that judges or juries are allowed to award in total for both wrongful death and survival actions from the same incident. That total is $650,000 for a single plaintiff and $812,500 for more than one plaintiff.

It is easy to get overwhelmed when looking into these legal issues, particularly after the loss of a family member. In our area, the best step is simply to contact an experienced Baltimore medical malpractice lawyer who can take the reigns and navigate the process on your behalf. Contact the lawyers at STSW or visit our website to set up your free consultation.

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