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Can You Sue a Hospital for Wrongful Death?

Hospital Wrongful Death

You may be able to sue a hospital for wrongful death in Pennsylvania; whether you can do so depends on the individual circumstances of the case.

Not every death that occurs at a hospital is a wrongful one, but you may have a valid wrongful death claim if the person who died is a family member covered by the statute and the death was caused by negligence or other wrongful act. You may also be able to sue a medical provider or other staff member of the hospital, and multiple parties may be defendants in the lawsuit.

If you have lost a loved one because of negligence at a hospital, you may be entitled to receive financial compensation. However, wrongful death lawsuits due to hospital medical malpractice are extremely complicated and involve prompt investigation, gathering of facts, in-depth knowledge of the law, testimony of expert witnesses, and skill of an experienced attorney. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff, by a preponderance of the evidence. Your case must be handled correctly and competently, or you may never collect the compensation you are entitled to.

Our Pennsylvania wrongful death lawyer at Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters have spent decades honing their skills and successfully representing Pennsylvania families who have suffered loss due to negligence and malpractice by medical professionals and hospitals. Our attorneys offer personal attention and loyalty to every client, aggressively fighting for justice and their right to compensation.

We offer a free telephone consultation to examine the facts of your case and determine how we can help. We work on a contingency basis, so there are no fees to you unless and until we win your case.

Call us today at (570) 323-8711 to set up your free and confidential consultation.

What is Wrongful Death in a Hospital?

Many people die in hospitals, despite the best efforts of hospital staff to save them – but this is not necessarily the same as wrongful death.

According to Pennsylvania law, (42 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 8301), a wrongful death claim is to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by a wrongful act or neglect. Pennsylvania law allows for damages to be awarded when a person dies from another person’s or entity’s negligence, which is defined as a failure to exercise reasonable care. Wrongful death from hospital medical malpractice due to negligence is covered by this law.

If preventable injuries or death are caused by an individual or entity, that may constitute negligence. There are multiple parties who, conceivably, could be found liable, including doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, laboratory personnel, pharmacists, hospital administrators and supervisors, and the hospital corporation or owners. They all may have insurance, but be aware that in Pennsylvania there may also be insurance through the Mcare Act, a division of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. The relationship between first party coverage and Mcare is complex. Who is included in a lawsuit depends upon many factors, including vicarious liability, corporate liability, and other principles of law.

Examples of negligence that could lead to wrongful death include:

  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a serious medical condition
  • Wrong medication or wrong dosage given
  • Negligent conduct of a hospital employee
  • Breach of hospital protocol and procedures
  • Radiology or laboratory test error
  • Surgical errors
  • Emergency room errors.

In order to win your case, our attorneys would have to show that the following elements existed:

  • Duty: The defendant (the hospital and its employees) owed the deceased a duty or obligation to treat patients at least up to the standard of care of the generally accepted medical practice.
  • Breach: The defendant violated that obligation or breached that duty by acting or failing to act.
  • Cause: The actions or lack of action caused the death of the patient.
  • Damages: The plaintiff suffered damages as a result.

If the hospital claims that a doctor who acted negligently is not an employee, the hospital could still be liable if an investigation of the facts shows that the individual was held out as appearing to be an employee. This is called “ostensible agency”. If medical staff such as nurses, technicians, and support people acted negligently and caused the death, the hospital may be liable for vicarious liability or as an ostensible principal.

Who can recover damages in a hospital wrongful death lawsuit?

Even if you have suffered damages from the wrongful death of a loved one, the law limits who can bring a claim and recover damages. Pennsylvania requires the personal representative or executor of the deceased person’s estate to file the wrongful death lawsuit. However, if the personal representative does not file the wrongful death claim within six months of the date of death, any person entitled by law to recover damages in such action may file the claim on behalf of all beneficiaries. (Pa. Rules of Civil Procedure No. 2022 (2021).)  This may involve Orphans’ Court procedure, which is yet another complex body of law.

In Pennsylvania, close relatives of the deceased may be awarded damages for their own financial losses incurred from the wrongful death of their loved one. This includes compensation for:

  • medical expenses
  • death-related expenses, such as funeral and burial costs
  • past and future lost contributions from the decedent
  • the monetary value of the services, society and comfort that the deceased loved one will no longer be able to provide.

For wrongful death cases, the law contains provisions for both a wrongful death claim and a survival action, which is action for the estate of the deceased person.

In a survival claim, a person acts on behalf of the deceased to recover damages the deceased individual could have sought if the death had not occurred. Survival claims include recovery for:

  • the suffering of the decedent from the injury until the death
  • lost earnings from the time the of injury until death
  • future lost earnings
  • past noneconomic damages for the mental and physical pain, suffering, and inconvenience and loss of life’s pleasures that the deceased endured from the moment of injury until death.

The spouse, children or parents of the deceased are entitled to receive damages, which will be distributed to the beneficiaries in the proportion they would be in the case of intestacy — if the deceased had died without a will. Even if there is no will, the court and the Pennsylvania Office of Inheritance Tax will apportion a verdict or settlement between wrongful death and survival damages.

In addition, plaintiffs are entitled to recover damages for reasonable hospital, nursing, medical and funeral expenses, and expenses of administration due to injuries causing death.

According to the law (Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure1042.3, et seq.), your attorney must be able to sign a “certificate of merit” from an appropriately licensed professional stating that this professional believes there is a reasonable probability that your healthcare provider’s actions “fell outside acceptable professional standards” and caused the alleged harm. This certificate must be filed along with or within 60 days of filing the initial complaint that starts the lawsuit.  There may be questions concerning a certificate of merit as to hospitals when vicarious liability or corporate claims are involved.

Call Our Skilled Wrongful Death Attorneys Today

If you have lost a loved one due hospital negligence or wrongdoing, you may be entitled to compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. While no amount of money can restore your loved one, a successful case can provide the peace of mind of bringing wrongdoers to justice and helping to prevent other patients from suffering similar mistreatment.

Do not delay. There is a statute of limitations, a time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. According to Pennsylvania consolidated statutes title 42 § 5524, you generally have just two years from the time of the death to file or the courts can refuse to hear your case, and the sooner you file, the sooner our attorneys can start the process of investigation while evidence is fresh and witnesses can be found. There are instances under which tolling of a claim may be found, but they are unique, unusual and in rare situations, and are very factually intensive.

Call our team at Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Humphrey & Waters today at (570) 323-8711.