When you go to the hospital, you expect doctors to tend to injuries properly and that you or your loved one will recover in a short time. However, in some cases, it doesn’t end up that way. Instead of bringing a loved one home to finish recovering, you find yourself making funeral arrangements. If medical professionals or a hospital’s negligence caused the death of a loved one, the answer to the question, “Can you sue a hospital for wrongful death?” is “yes.”
HOW TO START A WRONGFUL DEATH ACTION
When someone dies as a result of another’s negligence, including wrongful death in a hospital, you can recover compensation for wrongful death. In Texas, the spouse, children and/or parents can take legal action on behalf of themselves or for all of the decedent’s immediate blood relatives. The decedent’s estate can also bring the wrongful death action on behalf of the heirs. The first step is finding an experienced medical malpractice attorney to review your case. You will need copies of your loved one’s medical records to get started. During the initial case evaluation, the attorney will give you a list of documents to procure. If you need help obtaining the documents, the law firm staff can help you.
WHAT IS WRONGFUL DEATH IN A HOSPITAL?
Medical malpractice often results in injuries from a doctor’s or other medical professional’s negligence or gross negligence. In some cases, negligence could cause the wrongful death of a loved one. In most cases, hospitals are liable because:
- The actions and inactions of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who work for the hospital might be negligent, grossly negligent or intentional.
- The hospital was negligent in hiring and/or supervising its medical professionals, overseeing medical care at the hospital, keeping equipment maintained and repaired, and/or managing its employees.
You must prove substandard medical care to have a good medical malpractice case. The elements of a medical malpractice case, including wrongful death, are:
- Your loved one must have had a doctor/patient relationship or show another duty of care.
- The hospital was negligent in its actions or inactions. For a person or entity to be negligent, you must be able to show that the care given was less than the standard of care expected of medical professionals.
- The patient must have suffered an injury, including death, as the result of the medical professional’s or hospital’s negligence.
WHAT IF THE DOCTOR IS NOT AN EMPLOYEE OF THE HOSPITAL?
In some cases, a medical professional may not be an employee of the hospital. He or she might have privileges to practice at the hospital as an independent contractor. You will most likely not be able to sue a hospital for that medical professional’s negligence.
It is often difficult to determine whether a medical professional is an employee or an independent contractor. Your medical malpractice attorney will determine whether the medical professional is or is not an employee, as that influences whether you can sue the professional and the hospital for wrongful death.
Additionally, in certain situations, the hospital could be responsible for an independent contractor medical professional who caused a wrongful death because of his or her actions or inactions. Generally, this situation arises if the hospital has a doctor who is incompetent on staff or if the hospital has not made it clear to the patient that the doctor is an independent contractor.
Finally, in some situations, the doctor might seem to be an independent contractor. However, if the hospital has a certain amount of control over the doctor, the doctor would be an employee by law. Your medical malpractice attorney will uncover this information during his or her investigation of your case.
TYPES OF ACTIONS AND INACTIONS THAT COULD LEAD TO WRONGFUL DEATH
A medical professional’s or hospital’s negligence could include certain actions and inactions, including:
- Misdiagnosing a condition.
- Prescription mistakes, including reading the prescription wrong (wrong dose), prescribing the wrong medications and giving a patient another patient’s prescription. Even giving certain prescriptions at the wrong time could result in death.
- Negligence that affects the birth of a child and/or the pregnancy.
- Errors during surgery, including operating on the wrong body part, leaving a foreign object inside the body, and errors during surgery that cause the patient to lose his or her life.
- Failure to monitor the patient’s vital signs.
- Failure to document the patient’s medical records and update the patient’s history. For example, if a nurse does not document giving the patient morphine, and then another nurse gives the patient another dose, causing the death, the non-documentation is negligence.
- Failure to report suspicious symptoms to the in-charge doctor.
- Failure to treat for a diagnosed condition.
- Allowing a patient to contract a deadly infection in the hospital, which leads to the patient’s death.
- Anesthesia errors.
- Informed consent (failure to warn a patient of the known risks of a procedure or medication).
- Negligent treatment – the medical professional makes a mistake that any reasonably competent doctor would not make. Doctors have a higher expectation of competency than the average person because of their training and experience.
After a wrongful death, you should contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately. Most personal injury cases, including wrongful death, have a two-year statute of limitations. However, some insurance companies require that you file a claim much sooner.
HOW CAN A HOSPITAL BE FOUND NEGLIGENT?
In addition to a medical professional’s negligence, the hospital could also be found negligent if a hospital:
- Does not verify that its medical professionals are competent.
- Does not fire unlicensed or incompetent employees.
- Does not establish, maintain and enforce patient safety protocols.
- Does not properly staff the hospital (understaffing).
RECOVERING DAMAGES FOR WRONGFUL DEATH
You could recover compensatory damages and punitive damages if a person died at the hands of a negligent medical professional and/or hospital. However, to recover punitive damages, you must be able to show that the doctor’s and/or hospital’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional.
Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages and include:
- Medical expenses that your loved one incurred.
- Loss of income for the time your loved one was in the hospital.
- Loss of future earning capacity.
- Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses.
- Pain and suffering/emotional distress.
- Loss of companionship and/or consortium.
- Loss of parental guidance.
If you lost a loved one because of a medical professional’s or hospital’s negligence, contact our wrongful death attorney at Hanna Law Firm by calling 432-220-2649 for a free case evaluation.