Can You Sue If a Family Member Died From Medical Malpractice?

If a family member recently died and you believe that the care or lack of care they received led to their death, then it’s worth meeting with a lawyer. When medical malpractice leads to death, the immediate victim is obviously not able to file a lawsuit against the doctor or hospital. However, you, as a family member of the deceased, can file a type of personal injury lawsuit known as a wrongful death case.

Here’s what you need to know as you consider filing such a lawsuit.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case?
Each state has its own regulations regarding who can file a wrongful death case. Generally, only spouses and immediate family members can file such a case, and most states have more specific regulation — such as the deceased’s children can only file if their other parent is no longer living.

In Florida, the case must be filed by someone who is the personal representative of the deceased, as indicated by the will. If the deceased did not leave a will, the courts will appoint a personal representative, who then has the ability to file a wrongful death case if desired. Spouses, children, parents, and other dependent blood relatives are the only ones who can be named a personal representative and file a wrongful death case in Florida.

How Do You Know if You Have a Case?
Just because a treatment did not work for your family member does not automatically mean you have a wrongful death case. As with all personal injury lawsuits, in order to have a case, you must demonstrate that the person or organization you are filing against was negligent or intended to cause harm. There are a few ways a doctor or medical worker can be negligent:

They failed to diagnose a condition when a competent doctor would have recognized the symptoms.
They prescribed or administered the wrong medication.
They made a mistake during surgery that is outside the realm of what’s expected. Examples include leaving a surgical instrument inside the patient, failing to use proper sanitation protocols, and operating at the wrong site.
They performed surgery when it was not necessary.

You must also be able to demonstrate that your family died as a result of the mistakes made, not due to other causes. As you can see, whether or not you have a wrongful death lawsuit is not always a very black and white determination. Your best approach is to share the details of your family member’s death with a personal injury attorney. They will let you know whether or not you have a strong case.

How Much Can You Ask For?
When filing a wrongful death case, keep in mind that you are suing for damages that you have suffered as a result of your loved one’s death — not for damages against your family member. Damages you may have suffered include:

Loss of support
Loss of prospective inheritance
Medical bills and funeral expenses you are now responsible for paying

While totaling medical bills is pretty simple, it can be hard to determine how much money you have lost in support and inheritance due to your family member’s death. Your lawyer will make a recommendation as to how much you should ask for in these categories.

In some states, including Florida, you can also sue for punitive damages. This is an additional amount of money you ask for with the goal of punishing the individual who wronged your loved one. Usually punitive damages are only awarded in extreme cases, such as if a doctor intentionally acted to cause death or made a very serious surgical error.

If one of your family members died as a result of neglect or intentional harm on the part of a doctor, nurse, or other caregiver, you may have a strong wrongful death case. Contact the Law Office of Scott M. Sandler, P.A. to discuss your situation and hopefully start down the path toward receiving the compensation you deserve.

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