Can You Sue a Hospital for Wrongful Death?

September 28, 2020

If a loved one died at a hospital and it looks suspicious to you, you may wonder, can you sue a hospital for wrongful death? You may have a wrongful death claim if the person is a close family member and there’s evidence of negligence or a wrongful act. These can be very complicated cases, so a prompt and thorough investigation is key to determining your legal rights.

What is a wrongful death lawsuit? Title 42, Chapter 83 of the Pennsylvania General Statutes, Section 8301 states that a wrongful death claim …

  • Can recover damages for the death of an individual.
  • May be filed when a wrongful act, neglect, unlawful violence, or negligence of another caused the death.
  • May not include damages recovered by the deceased during his or her lifetime.
  • Would combine any prior legal actions for the injuries with the wrongful death claim.

Can You Sue a Hospital for Wrongful Death? If the Facts are on Your Side, You May Have a Valid Claim.

Most cases about wrongful death in a hospital are based on claims that the defendant (the party sued) acted negligently, causing the person’s death. A plaintiff (the party filing the suit) would need to show:

  • The defendant owed the deceased a duty or obligation to do or not do something. A doctor must treat patients at least up to the standard of care (the generally accepted medical practices used by a group of medical professionals of similar background and training).
  • The defendant violated that obligation or breached that duty. The doctor failed to review medical records thoroughly, prescribed medications the patient was allergic to, or failed to diagnose the patient with a condition needing immediate attention.
  • The actions, or lack of action, caused a fatal injury.
  • The plaintiff suffered damages (the measurement of harm in dollars) as a result.
  • Under Pennsylvania law, the defendant must compensate the plaintiff.

State law limits who can file a claim. Among those who can do so are the victim’s surviving spouse, children, or parents. If multiple people file the lawsuit, any damages award would be shared as if the victim died intestate (without a will). If there is no surviving spouse, child, or parent, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate can sue for hospital, nursing and medical expenses after the accident up to the person’s death. Funeral expenses and the costs of estate administration due to the fatal injuries can also be sought.

Damages in a Case Involving Wrongful Death in a Hospital

A successful plaintiff can be awarded economic damages like medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and losing a household income. Non-economic damages could also be awarded, including the loss of protection, care, and guidance; loss of companionship and love; and compensation for the survivors’ emotional distress, pain, and suffering.

If it is proven that the defendant was extremely negligent or intentionally harmed the deceased, punitive damages could be awarded. They are to punish the defendant and discourage it, and others, from doing the same thing in the future.

Many Mistakes Can Happen in a Hospital. Anyone Responsible for Patient Care Could be at Fault.

Just because your loved one died in a hospital doesn’t mean there’s a basis for a wrongful death claim against it. Facts will determine what legal claims, if any, can be brought. We can start an investigation into your family member’s death after we’re retained. We need to be thorough and thoughtful before suggesting that a lawsuit should be filed. This takes time, so if your loved one’s death seems suspicious to you, you should contact our office sooner rather than later.

Our investigation can uncover the cause of death and who may be responsible. Many things can go wrong when someone is hospitalized. The facts may show that there was no negligence and no valid reason to file a legal action. But mistakes often happen in hospitals, and some of them can have deadly results. One or many people could be negligent:

  • Physicians
  • Surgeons
  • Pathologists
  • Radiologists
  • Nurses
  • Laboratory personnel
  • Pharmacists and pharmacy staff.

Whether You Have a Good Case for Wrongful Death in a Hospital May Depend on Who’s an Employee.

Hospitals are generally liable for the negligent acts of their employees. Doctors and surgeons treating patients in a hospital may not be its employees. They may have hospital privileges, but if a hospital lacks enough control over the person, under the law they may not be employees. If that’s the case, the healthcare professional could be sued for negligence. Depending on the facts, the hospital may or may not be a proper defendant in a case.

If the mistake was made by a doctor whom the hospital claims isn’t an employee, it could still be liable if the facts show that the doctor, under the law, is actually an employee despite the label the hospital uses. If the hospital controls the doctor’s hours or schedule, his or her vacation time, or the fees the doctor charges, the doctor may be a hospital employee.

A hospital could also be sued if it knew of prior mistakes and medical malpractice by the doctor but acted negligently by allowing him or her continued access to the hospital.

If medical staff like nurses, technicians, and support people acted negligently while performing their jobs and caused the death, the hospital is probably liable, because employees usually fill these jobs. If the employee was directly supervised by a physician when the negligence happened, the physician, not the hospital, may be liable.

Our Understanding Philadelphia Attorneys Are Here for You

If you believe a loved one suffered a wrongful death in a hospital, a lawsuit is an option worth thinking about. Our skilled attorneys at Wapner Newman will answer all your questions, discuss how the law may apply in your case, and talk about what legal claims may be worth pursuing. Call our Pennsylvania law office at (215) 569-0900 to schedule a free consultation. We understand what you are going through. We will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve for the loss of your loved one.