Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Medical Providers

Most patients rightfully expect their doctors to have their best interests at heart. Even so, medical professionals are only human. They make mistakes, sometimes accidentally—and even intentionally. When a loved one passes away as a result of medical malpractice, surviving family members should retain the services of a skilled wrongful death attorney. Lawyer Christopher Pracht will walk you through options for pursuing legal action, including filing a wrongful death lawsuit in South Carolina. Get the proper justice your family deserves. 

Definition and Basis for Wrongful Death Action

The legal definition of wrongful death is very particular, and even more so in the context of medical malpractice. Not everyone who passes away under the care of a doctor is eligible to sue for wrongful death. Understandably, medical professionals cannot guarantee outcomes. There are always risks and unintended consequences. gavel and stethoscope on desk indicating medical malpractice in SC

For a medical malpractice case to qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit, it must meet four main criteria: 

  1. The doctor and patient had a pre-existing medical relationship. The doctor owed the patient a reasonable duty of care.
  2. The doctor or other health care provider breached that duty of care. 
  3. The breach of duty of care is what caused the eventual death of the patient.
  4. The breach and consequent death caused significant economic and non-economic damages. 

The breach of duty of care takes on different forms. It may involve negligence or failure to act with due care. Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease. 

Examples of Common Medical Errors and Negligence

A range of medical errors can lead to the unfortunate demise of a loved one. If any of these examples apply, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Failed Communication

Miscommunication issues can prove fatal in a medical setting. This includes communication between medical staff and patients, for example. Patients might also misunderstand their diagnosis and treatment. Similarly, information shared between doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and specialists needs to be complete and accurate. Missing or incorrect information can have dire consequences. 

Treatment and Medication Errors

Negligent testing, treatment, and medication errors can also prove deadly. Any of these may be possible causes of wrongful death in certain circumstances: 

  • Lack of proper medical testing
  • Misreading or misinterpretation of test results
  • Mistakes during surgical procedures
  • Infections from unsanitary conditions
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Complications from improper use of anesthesia
  • Incorrect prescription or dosage
  • Poor or lack of follow-up care
  • Premature discharge from medical care
  • Ignoring patient history

Equipment Failures and Malfunctions

There are times when medical equipment may fail or malfunction. This could be due to a lack of maintenance or other issues. For example, an IV drip administering the incorrect dosage could prove fatal. 

Incorrect Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis is another glaring example of medical malpractice that may lead to a wrongful death. A health care provider is responsible for providing the right diagnosis to their patient to the best of their ability, and following through with accurate testing and treatment. An incorrect diagnosis may lead to improper treatment or a lack of treatment altogether. A delayed diagnosis can have similarly devastating effects. 

Clerical or Staffing Errors

Doctors and hospitals are often at the center of medical malpractice cases. But, other factors and staff can be equally implicated in a South Carolina wrongful death lawsuit. Examples at a staffing and organizational level may include:

  • Incorrect patient information
  • Lack of proper patient consent
  • Providing the patient with poor information
  • Documentation errors
  • Lost documents and medical records
  • Insufficient documentation policies
  • Inadequate staff training

Understanding the Legal Process and Possible Challenges

Generally speaking, wrongful death lawsuits in South Carolina have the same statute of limitations as personal injury cases. Family members must file legal action within three years of the incident. It’s imperative to consult with a wrongful death attorney who can advise you on how best to proceed. 

Choosing the Personal Representative

One of the first steps is for a personal representative to act on the deceased’s behalf to file a lawsuit. The most common candidates are: 

  • The spouse of the deceased
  • The person named in the will
  • Other family members
  • Other named heirs of the estate  

The family must agree on this personal representative before proceeding with any legal action. 

Proving Liability

Just because someone passed away under a doctor's or hospital's medical care doesn’t mean they’re legally liable for wrongful death. Plaintiffs must work with their attorneys to prove liability and negligence with compelling evidence, demonstrating that the hospital, medical staff, or doctor is to blame directly for the death of their loved one.

South Carolina law outlines emergency exceptions. It states that no physician may be held liable unless they’re proven to be grossly negligent. This exception is also usually applicable when there’s no previous doctor-patient relationship, or a patient isn’t medically stable and in immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury. 

Negotiating for Settlement

While no amount of money adequately compensates for the loss of a loved one, surviving family members can seek fair compensation for harm and negligence. Your skilled legal team at Pracht Injury Lawyers assesses the value of economic and non-economic damages and negotiates a fair settlement. 

Potential Wrongful Death Compensation 

Many of the damages that plaintiffs may seek in a medical malpractice wrongful death case are similar to personal injury cases including, but not limited to:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Lost income while still alive
  • Loss of future earnings and benefits
  • Other medication and treatment costs

Economic damages can be especially profound if the deceased loved one was the primary breadwinner for the family. With their passing, the family loses significant financial security. 

Non-Economic Damages for Wrongful Death

Survivors may also recover non-economic damages for their emotional and psychological impact, such as: 

  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life 
  • Mental and emotional anguish 

The medical malpractice lawsuit may also include the pain and suffering of the patient before their passing. 

Punitive Damages

The South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-32-220 places a cap on punitive damages. Generally, the punitive cap is greater than three times the actual damages or $500,000. For example, if economic and non-economic damages add up to $100,000, punitive damages may be up to $300,000. But, if actual damages are $250,000, the maximum punitive damages are $500,000.  

The punitive damages limit can increase to $2,000,000 or four times the actual damages if the defendant:

  • Acted primarily out of greed
  • Was unreasonably dangerous in their actions
  • Has the approval of a supervisor or high-ranking employee

A court might also award unlimited punitive damages if the defendant:

  • Was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Intended to cause harm
  • Is convicted of a felony for the act that caused the wrongful death

The Importance of Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney

It’s imperative to obtain legal counsel right away. Christopher Pracht has years of experience as a wrongful death lawyer, helping grieving families seek closure during a difficult time. He’s open to accepting cases in both South Carolina and out-of-state, such as when a South Carolina resident seeks medical treatment elsewhere. Our firm works diligently to hold health care providers responsible for your unfortunate loss and deliver them to justice.