Death is often tragic and unexpected. Overwrought with emotional distress, you may find yourself wondering why someone you love was taken from you so soon due to an accident or another's negligent actions. At what point does negligence actually constitute a wrongful death case? Without a proper investigation, it can be tough to say.
In wrongful death cases, plaintiffs are entitled to financial compensation from the party found culpable for it. This course of action is sometimes sought when criminal charges cannot be filed or when the defendant is acquitted in a criminal trial and is not considered at legal fault.
Here is a closer look at what a wrongful death legal claim is and what it involves.
Defining Wrongful Death
Wrongful death is defined as the loss of life resulting from an unjust or improper act caused by another person. These acts include but are not limited to negligence, medical malpractice, battery, assault, manslaughter, and murder. Wrongful death cases are typically filed by the family of the deceased, who may receive compensation for both the personal loss and the loss of financial support. A spouse or the child of the deceased, for example, may have suffered monetary damages in addition to the pain of losing a loved one.
Because wrongful death is a civil proceeding, it is separate from any criminal proceedings that might pertain to the death in question. If a defendant is acquitted in a murder trial, the family of the victim may still choose to sue for wrongful death in civil court. In many instances, families that have chosen to file a claim for damages after the end of the criminal proceedings have found the civil court judge to rule in their favor.
Examples of Situations That Can Result in a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death can be a broad category in civil lawsuits. A car accident in which one party died could constitute a wrongful death claim, as could a failure to diagnose a serious illness. The best way to identify wrongful death so that you know if your claim applies is to look at real-life examples.
On September 10, 2011, Dennis Zavinski of Streetsboro, Ohio was driving along State Route 14 when he was hit by a tractor-trailer that crossed the road’s median strip. The driver of the tractor-trailer was uninsured, and Zavinski was killed in the accident. In addition, there had been an uptick in accidents along State Route 14 since it had recently been paved, especially when the roads were wet. His wife, Monique Zavinski, sued the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2017 and the court ruled in favor of her. When the ODOT filed an appeal, the Court of Appeals decided to uphold the ruling.
Car accidents are the most common causes of wrongful death claims. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving accounted for 3,142 deaths in 2019. Drunk driving kills around 28 people every day.
Medical malpractice can result in wrongful death in several ways. Medical professionals may prescribe a poor treatment that leads to a patient’s death, may fail to catch a terminal illness, or may mishandle a surgery or medication resulting in the death of the patient.
An example of wrongful death due to medical malpractice was the case of an 86-year-old woman who was given medication that was 10 times her prescribed dosage. The patient had a history of heart issues and was treated in the emergency room for congestive heart failure. When she was moved to a rehab facility, her transfer sheet stated that she should receive 0.625 milligrams of medical digoxin daily. The actual amount the doctor had ordered was 0.0625 milligrams.
The patient was given this incorrect dosage for four days before she was transferred to a different facility. She died six weeks later of cardiomyopathy and renal failure. The wrongful death case also found that the admitting nurse at the rehab facility had edited her file to hide the fact that the medication had been administered.
Surgery is a precise and complicated procedure, with surgeons working directly with a patient's internal organs. Surgical errors can — and have — resulted in the death of patients, which is why surgeons are trained to avoid deadly mistakes.
As an example, a young man was admitted to an Ohio hospital for gallbladder removal surgery. After his surgery, his blood pressure began to drop, but this information was not adequately communicated to the surgeon. As a result, the surgeon did not come to check on the patient, who died of internal bleeding. A wrongful death case was filed and won against the nursing staff of the hospital.
Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose
A misdiagnosis or failure to correctly diagnose a patient’s condition can cause that condition to worsen, sometimes leading to death. One example of this occurred in Montgomery County, Ohio in 2009, when 34-year-old Karla Fountaine suffered a gestational hypertension stroke shortly after giving birth to her son. Dr. Cheryl Gill and her team, who all had a duty of care obligation to the patient, failed to diagnose preeclampsia, a condition that causes higher blood pressure and increased pregnancy risk.
Wrongful death claims due to defective products typically occur when there is a flaw in the design of the product or when the product fails to work the way it should. Companies may cut corners when it comes to the quality of manufacturing or safety regulations and testing, putting out a potentially dangerous product.
One famous wrongful death case due to defective products was brought against IKEA when three toddlers were crushed to death by IKEA dressers that had fallen on top of them. Although IKEA recalled these products in 2016 and began to take measures to avoid tip-over, these lawsuits brought to light instances of wrongful deaths caused by IKEA furniture going back to 1989.
Workplace safety regulations are strict and essential because the risks of accidents can be deadly. The case of a man who worked at Scott’s C&D Landfill in Ohio is one example of a workplace accident that may have led to wrongful death. The employee was on the ground, attempting to direct a semi to the drop-off point for their load, when he was struck by a tractor-trailer. He died hours later in the hospital. Columbus Dispatch never followed up with any news of a lawsuit from the man’s family, but in similar cases in which negligence might be at the root of the issue, the family could have a case for wrongful death.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Negligence and intent are at the heart of a wrongful death case. It must be determined that someone else was responsible for or caused the death. Did the deceased improperly use a product that caused their death, for example, or was the product defective from the time of manufacture?
While state statutes involving wrongful death may vary, your case may qualify as a wrongful death lawsuit if:
- The deceased was intentionally killed
- The car accident that caused the death was the result of the other driver’s carelessness
- Medical malpractice was committed
- A personal injury case later results in death
- A design or manufacturing error in a product results in death
If you are unsure whether you have a case, the Moore Law Firm can help you determine what wrongful death actions you can take.
Average Wrongful Death Settlement Amounts
Wrongful death settlements can vary widely depending on the circumstance. The court must take into account the family’s economic damages — loss of income, medical bills, and funeral expenses — as well as emotional damages from the loss of companionship, care, comfort, or sexual intimacy. The settlement can also depend on the type of wrongful death and whether the suit is against an individual or an organization. Many wrongful death cases are settled for millions of dollars, while some might figure in the thousands.
How and When You Should Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney
If you lost a loved one as the result of another person’s negligence or intent, you deserve to be compensated for that loss. You can contact a wrongful death attorney to schedule a consultation. The attorney will be able to review your case and whether it can be tried in court. You can hire a wrongful death attorney and make plans for a lawsuit even while a criminal case is ongoing. The two will be treated as separate cases.
Whether you lost a loved one due to a car accident, workplace accident, or medical malpractice, the Moore Law Firm is here for you. We have a record of knowledge and excellence in the areas of catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death, and we’re committed to fighting for our clients until they get the compensation they deserve. Contact us today to set up a free consultation.