Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing. Most patients admitted to hospitals have expectations of recovering from the injuries or illnesses. Unfortunately, sometimes a patient who enters a hospital with a fair prognosis can meet an unexpected and untimely death. When this happens, the family left behind undoubtedly has questions about what happened. In some cases, the investigation into the matter turns up evidence of possible medical malpractice.
When the circumstances of the patient’s death points to a health care provider’s mistake or equipment malfunction, the patient’s surviving family may try to hold the hospital liable for the loss of their loved one by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A lawsuit alleging a wrongful death is similar to a personal injury claim, the difference being that the injured person has died from the encounter. There are many kinds of defendants in wrongful death cases. For example, a person responsible for a fatal car accident can be sued for a wrongful death, or a company that manufactured a lethal product can be held liable for a wrongful death.
In accidental deaths of patients that occur in hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are sometimes named in wrongful death lawsuits that allege medical malpractice. The hospitals where the patients died may also be sued.
When is a Hospital Liable for a Wrongful Death?
The hospital can be held responsible for a wrongful death if staff or the hospital acted negligently. As mentioned, the malpractice of a hospital employee can be cause for a claim against the hospital. Examples of negligence that may be demonstrated by the hospital itself may have to do with negligence in hiring or managing its employees, supervising the medical care provided on site, or maintaining safe and effective hospital equipment.
A hospital can be on the hook for failing to ensure that its employees are properly licensed and safe to work with patients. Hospitals must be attentive during the hiring process as well as with the ongoing supervision of employees. The hospital can also be sued for failing to enact safety protocols, such as instituting appropriate handwashing practices, sanitation guidelines, and proper labeling and administration procedures for medications. The hospital may also be liable if they neglected to have enough staff on hand to handle the day’s workload.
A hospital may also be liable for medical equipment that they neglected to keep in working order.
What Types of Mistakes Constitute Medical Malpractice?
Doctors can be charged with malpractice if they misdiagnose patients, prescribe the wrong doses of medications, or make mistakes in surgeries. Nurses can be sued for malpractice if they make mistakes or omissions when taking patients’ vital signs, notating medical records, administering medications, or noticing worrisome symptoms.
Is the Hospital Liable for Having Negligent Independent Contractors?
Sometimes, doctors and specialists who are not employees of the hospital will see patients and even perform surgeries at the hospital. These non-employee caretakers have arrangements with the hospital to use the facility, but they are considered independent contractors. In general, hospitals bear no liability for the malpractice of independent contractors.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. A hospital may be held liable for allowing hospital privileges to a provider who is known to be unsafe. It may also be a problem if the hospital obscures the fact that the doctor is not an employee. The provider-hospital relationship is often laid out in the patient’s admissions documents.
How Can I Determine if the Negligent Practitioner is an Employee or an Independent Contractor?
If the provider has an employment contact with the hospital, the provider-hospital relationship is clear. However, there are some instances where the term independent contractor is used erroneously. Even if both the provider and the hospital maintain that no employment relationship exists, the circumstances of the arrangement may counter their understanding.
Things like how much control the hospital has over the provider’s schedule or service fees can determine if the arrangement fits the legally understood definition of an employee-employer relationship.
Who Can Bring Suit in a Wrongful Death Case?
In a wrongful death case, the patient’s surviving family members may bring suit, alleging medical malpractice against a provider or hospital involved in the death of their loved one.
In some states, the case can be brought by the estate for the benefit of the heirs, but in Delaware, only surviving family members may sue for damages. Such family members include the spouse, parents, children, and siblings of the deceased person, or any person related to the deceased person by blood or marriage.
What Types of Damages are Available in a Wrongful Death Suit?
Survivors can seek monetary damages, including reimbursement of medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, and loss of the companionship of their loved one.
Are There Any Deadlines to Keep in Mind When Considering a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A claim of wrongful death must be filed within two years of the death of a loved one. If a bereaved family attempts to file a lawsuit after two years have passed, it is unlikely that the suit will be successful.
Should I Obtain a Lawyer?
In order to pursue a wrongful death suit against a hospital, a lawyer must be acquired. A lawyer will review the facts of the case and determine if a wrongful death suit is possible. Since there are deadlines, it is important to seek legal representation right away.
Delaware Wrongful Death Lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow Hold Negligent Hospitals Accountable in Wrongful Death Cases
If you have lost a loved one as a result of the negligent actions of a hospital or its staff, you may have a wrongful death case against the hospital. Contact one of our Delaware wrongful death lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow if you suspect a hospital’s negligence led to a loved one’s death. For a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at (302) 427-9500. Located in Wilmington, Bear, and Milford, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Middletown, Dover, Milford, Hillsborough, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford.