The death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult events. When that death happens due to someone else’s negligence, the wake of suffering loved ones face is even more challenging. The negligent parties are not necessarily the individual(s) directly involved with a death, but can be a group or entity, such as a County government department or entity, or a hospital. One incident from a few years ago involved the suicide of an inmate at Whatcom County Jail. Her family sued the County for negligence, alleging that jail officials did not check on her as often as their own guidelines required. Another wrongful death claim involved the death of a Bellingham child, killed by a teenager who was on probation. His officer was negligent in following up in a timely fashion after the teenager did not follow his requirements. Mikey’s family called me for help. We sued the County, and my clients were awarded a substantial sum of money for the loss of their young child as well as improvements to the probation department’s monitoring system. Often, the surviving loved ones feel compelled to sue to keep these entities accountable and prevent a recurrence.

Many other wrongful death cases involve the medical community. I’ll talk a little about these all-too-common and utterly tragic cases in this post.

Deaths due to medical negligence

A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins showed that medical errors in hospitals and other healthcare facilities are extremely common and are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. These deaths claim 251,000 lives every year – more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s. That’s about 700 deaths a day and roughly 9.5 percent of all deaths annually in the United States. All of these deaths were caused by the careless, reckless or negligent acts of doctors, nurses, hospital staff, anesthesiologists, technicians and other professionals in the medical field. And these are deaths that could have been entirely prevented, had someone been paying attention.

You may be wondering right about now, “what is my chance of dying in a hospital due to medical errors?” From the study: 

“In the four studies, which examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008, researchers found serious adverse events in as many as 21 percent of cases reviewed and rates of lethal adverse events as high as 1.4 percent of cases.”

Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice

Generally speaking, a wrongful death occurs when one person is responsible for the death of another and caused it deliberately or through his or her recklessness. Under Washington state law, wrongful death is a fatality caused by the neglect or wrongful act of another. In the context of medical malpractice, a wrongful death could be caused by, for example, a physician’s failure to diagnose a medical condition that could have been treated such as heart disease or cancer. It can also occur as the result of any act of professional negligence that falls below acceptable standards of care. Incompetence on the part of a doctor or physician is an example or care that falls below acceptable standards.

There are four key elements that must be proven in a wrongful death case. The plaintiffs must prove that the death of their loved one was caused by negligence on the part of the medical professionals involved. Plaintiffs must also prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased victim and that he or she breached that duty. The plaintiff must also show how the defendant’s negligence caused their loved one’s death and show evidence that he or she suffered quantifiable damages as a result of the death. Some of the damages that can be sought in wrongful death cases include medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, lost future income, pain and suffering and loss of love, care and companionship.

For more on wrongful death:

Personal representatives in wrongful death claims

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