Wrongful Death vs. Medical Malpractice: Understanding the Differences


At first glance, the differences between medical malpractice and wrongful death seem relatively straightforward. Medical malpractice happens when a medical provider harms a patient by failing to follow the standard of care. But wrongful death refers to the death of a person caused by another person or company's negligence or wrongful act. Knowing whether to file a medical malpractice versus a wrongful death claim can be confusing in certain situations.

Learn more about the difference in legal processes between wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits, including liability and compensation in both cases.

Distinguishing Wrongful Death vs. Medical Malpractice

Wrongful death and medical malpractice claims have different scopes and legal implications.

Wrongful Death Claims and Their Scope

Under Ohio law, a wrongful death is caused by the wrongful default, act, or neglect of another party that would have entitled the victim to file a personal injury lawsuit had they survived. In other words, a wrongful death case is a type of personal injury lawsuit where another party files a claim on behalf of a deceased victim.

Wrongful death lawsuits arise from many circumstances, including:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Intentional acts, such as murders. In Ohio, a single act can lead to criminal charges and a wrongful death claim. 
  • Negligence-based incidents, such as truck and passenger vehicle crashes and slip-and-fall accidents

Per Ohio Rev. Code § 2125.02, wrongful death claims must be filed by the personal representative or executor of the deceased's person's estate. If the deceased had a will, they probably named a personal representative. If they had no will, the court chooses someone to be the personal representative.

Medical Malpractice and Its Legal Implications

Medical malpractice happens when a patient suffers harm or injury due to a healthcare professional's failure to provide appropriate care. 

Ohio medical malpractice law requires plaintiffs (people filing the case) to obtain an affidavit of merit before filing the lawsuit. The affidavit provides information from a medical provider expressing their opinion that the defendant (the medical professional or institute being sued) provided treatment falling below the acceptable standard of care.

Plaintiffs often file medical malpractice legal actions for the following:

  • Obstetrical negligence and birth injuries
  • Delay in diagnosis or misdiagnosis, especially for stroke and cancer
  • Surgical negligence
  • Medical device and equipment issues
  • Medical errors, such as medication errors
  • Surgical errors and unnecessary surgeries
  • Optometrist negligence
  • Diagnostic errors
  • Failure to monitor and respond to conditions and illnesses

Overlapping Cases: Medical Malpractice Resulting in Wrongful Death

Sometimes, medical malpractice lawsuits and wrongful death actions overlap. For example, if medical negligence leads to a patient's death, the deceased's family members may have two potential claims: 

  • A medical malpractice claim compensates for the injuries and damages incurred by the deceased from when they were injured until they died. This type of medical malpractice claim is known as survival of action under Ohio Revised Code §2305.21.
  • A wrongful death claim compensates the family for their losses due to the deceased's death. 

Liability and Compensation in Wrongful Death vs. Medical Malpractice

Liability and compensation differ between wrongful death and medical malpractice cases. 

Wrongful Death

In wrongful death cases, plaintiffs must demonstrate the following to prove liability:

  • The deceased's death resulted from the negligent or willful action or inaction of another person or company.
  • The deceased would have been entitled to damages if they had lived.

Compensation includes:

  • Nursing, medical, and hospital care for treating the deceased's injuries before death
  • Financial and emotional support the deceased would have provided to the family if they had lived
  • Reasonable burial and funeral expenses
  • Emotional distress, grief, and pain and suffering the family endured due to the victim's death
  • Punitive damages for punishing the defendant and deterring others from behaving in similar ways

Medical Malpractice

Plaintiffs must show the following to prove liability in medical malpractice cases:

  • The healthcare provider breached the standard of medical care expected of a reasonable practitioner with the same training, experience, education, and under similar circumstances.
  • The breach harmed the victim, leading to compensable damages.

Compensation includes:

  • Medical expenses for treating the victim's injuries before their death
  • The victim's pain and suffering
  • The victim's loss of income 
  • The victim's burial and funeral expenses
  • The family's loss of consortium (loss of a family and spousal relationship due to injuries caused by the defendant)
  • Punitive damages

Legal Process for Filing Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Families of deceased victims can file wrongful death lawsuits by doing the following:

  1. Gather evidence to support the lawsuit, such as the deceased's medical records and videos of the accident that killed them.
  2. Calculate non-economic, economic, and punitive damages.
  3. File a wrongful death lawsuit within a certain period called a "statute of limitations." Ohio's statute of limitations for most wrongful death lawsuits is two years from the date of death. The court will most likely refuse to hear the matter if you fail to bring the claim within this period.
  4. Negotiate with the opposing side's lawyers. 
  5. Bring the case to court if the opposing side refuses to settle.

Talk to a Cincinnati wrongful death attorney to learn how they can help with the legal process. A trusted lawyer can determine your chances of winning a wrongful death suit.

Legal Process for Pursuing Medical Malpractice Claims

Medical malpractice claims are among the most difficult to prove. They require victims to go through the following legal processes:

  1. Gather evidence to support their cases, such as doctor's notes, hospital records, and testimonies from third-party medical experts.
  2. Calculate non-economic, economic, and punitive damages.
  3. File legal paperwork within Ohio's one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims.
  4. Negotiate with the opposing side's lawyers.
  5. Fight for their rights in court, if needed.

Like wrongful death cases, medical malpractice claims are complex. Consult a Cincinnati medical malpractice attorney to learn more about important factors in medical malpractice cases.

Choose the Right Attorney for Your Case

If you or a loved one have been hurt by another party's negligence, action, or inaction, contact The Moore Law Firm. Whether you have suffered a catastrophic injury in an auto accident or medical malpractice, Moore Law's Cincinnati personal injury attorneys will fight for your right to receive maximum compensation. We represent victims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don't have to pay unless you win your case. 

Contact Moore Law to book a free consultation today.

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If you have been injured or have lost a loved one as a result of another person's negligence, you deserve to be fully compensated for your losses. The simple fact is that you should not be forced to pay the price for another person's careless or reckless actions.