If you have lost a loved one who received treatment or was denied treatment at a hospital, you tragically are not alone. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and many of these fatal errors occur in the hospital setting.
Can you sue the hospital for the death of a family member? This is a complicated question, and the answer depends on the specific circumstances surrounding your loved one’s untimely passing.
However, families often have grounds to sue. For those who do, holding the hospital accountable can be a key step in the coping process.
5 Questions to Determine If You Can Sue the Hospital for the Death of a Family Member
Determining whether family members can sue a hospital for wrongful death requires a thorough investigation and detailed legal assessment. Broadly speaking, however, there are five overarching questions that can help determine your family’s legal rights.
If the answer to each of these five questions is “Yes,” you may be able to sue the hospital for your family member’s death:
1. Did Your Family Member Seek Treatment in a Hospital (or Was Your Loved One Taken to a Hospital for Treatment)?
If you have questions about suing a hospital for a family member’s death, your answer to this question will almost certainly be “Yes.” If your loved one received inadequate treatment in a hospital, your loved one was sent home without a proper diagnosis, or your loved one was denied care, these are all scenarios in which it may be possible to sue the hospital for medical malpractice.
2. Did a Doctor, Nurse, or Other Hospital Employee Make a Mistake?
In order to sue for medical malpractice, you must be able to show that a doctor, nurse, or other hospital employee was negligent. The fact that your loved one died in a hospital or after seeking treatment in a hospital does not necessarily mean that your family has grounds to sue.
Errors in a hospital can take many forms, including:
- Refusing treatment to a patient in the emergency room based on perceived inability to pay
- Improper triage of ER patients
- Failure to diagnose
- Failure to treat
- Delayed treatment
- Anesthesia and medication errors
- Surgical errors
- Recordkeeping errors
3. Did the Mistake Amount to Negligence or a Breach of the Healthcare Provider’s Duty of Care?
Importantly, not all medical mistakes rise to the level of medical malpractice. To justify a lawsuit, a mistake must either: (i) amount to negligence on the part of the hospital or (ii) involve a healthcare provider’s failure to meet their duty of care.
Under California law, all healthcare providers have a duty to diagnose and treat patients with “the level of skill, knowledge, and care . . . that other reasonably careful [providers] would use in similar circumstances.” Hospital administration errors (e.g., recordkeeping errors) can also amount to “actionable” negligence even if this medical duty of care does not apply.
4. Did the Medical Error Cause Your Loved One’s Death?
One of the most challenging aspects of a medical malpractice case is the issue of “causation.” To file a successful lawsuit against a hospital, family members must be able to prove that the hospital’s negligence (or a provider’s malpractice) caused their loved one’s death.
When defending against families’ wrongful death claims, hospitals and their insurance companies will often argue that evidence of causation is lacking. Typically, they will argue that: (i) any mistakes that were made were not responsible for the victim’s death or (ii) the victim’s own conduct (i.e., failure to follow their doctor’s advice) is to blame.
To overcome these allegations, a medical malpractice lawyer will typically hire one or more medical experts to testify that hospital errors caused the patient’s death. Expert testimony is often crucial for establishing a link between the negligent care a patient received and the death of the patient either in or after leaving the hospital.
5. Do You Still Have Time to Sue the Hospital?
Finally, you need to make sure you still have time to bring a medical malpractice claim. In California, eligible family members have up to three years from the date of death to file a lawsuit in most cases. However, exceptions may apply.
In any case, taking legal action as soon as possible will give you and your family the best chance to recover the financial compensation you deserve.
If you need to know more about filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a hospital in California, we strongly encourage you to schedule a free initial consultation with the Law Offices of Mickey Fine today. Please call (661) 333-3333 to discuss your family’s legal rights with Bakersfield wrongful death lawyer Mickey Fine in confidence.