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Can a Doctor Be Sued for Wrongful Death of a Patient?

When one person’s negligent acts or omissions lead to the death of another, that person can be sued for wrongful death, and medical professionals are certainly not exempt. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine caused a stir last year when they released a study claiming that medical errors killed more than 250,000 Americans every year. They urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list of the top causes of death, where it would have appeared third behind cancer and heart disease. So while medical malpractice does result in the wrongful death of patients and the victim’s next of kin can sue doctors for fatal malpractice, the question remains whether the victim’s family can prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence.

There are many difficulties associated with medical malpractice cases, especially those that arise from alleged fatal errors. The suing party must be able to establish:

  • Proof of error — The fact that a patient died is not, by itself, proof that a doctor did anything wrong. Moreover, a doctor may have missed something, but it may have been something that nine out of 10 doctors also would have missed. For an error to be clear and actionable, there must be evidence that a doctor performed at a substandard level, making a mistake that a reasonably well-qualified doctor would not have made.
  • Proof the error caused harm — Just because a doctor made a mistake and a patient got worse does not mean the error harmed the patient. Illnesses can be complex, so an error treating one aspect of the problem may just be coincidental to the patient’s waning health, not the cause.
  • Proof the patient died from the harm caused — Similar to the problem above, a doctor can make a mistake that does, in fact, cause harm, but it might be some other complication that is fatal to the patient. To prevail in a wrongful death case, the plaintiffs must show direct causation from the physician’s mistake to the patient’s death.

For all of these reasons, medical malpractice cases are generally complex and highly technical. Attorneys for the family of the victim must thoroughly investigate medical records and speak to personnel who might have knowledge of the treatment in question. Attorneys for each side hire medical experts to testify, trying to convince the court to accept their version of the facts. Both sides rely on statistics that purport to show the likely outcome for a patient fitting the profile of the deceased. Fortunately for the plaintiffs, they need only prove their allegations by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning their assertions are more likely to be true than the defense’s rebuttals are.

If your loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, trust Largey Law to fight aggressively for justice. To schedule an appointment with an experienced wrongful death lawyer at our firm, call 352.508.1485 or contact our office online.

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