Medical negligence occurs when a patient suffers injury due to the negligent acts of a healthcare professional. It is among the leading causes of death in the US, with nearly 100,000 fatalities yearly. Moreover, about 400,000 patients experience preventable harm each year due to medical errors.
It can give rise to medical malpractice if a patient becomes injured or dies due to the negligent acts of a medical professional. The elements of medical negligence leading to wrongful death include the following:
- The health professional owes a standard of care to the plaintiff;
- The breach of such a standard;
- The plaintiff’s death; and
- The causation between the breach and death.
Contact a wrongful death lawyer in case a loved one dies due to medical negligence. They can help family members institute a claim within the statute of limitations, which ranges from one to six years. More importantly, an attorney can help you receive the rightful compensation for losing a loved one.
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Factors Affecting Payout for Medical Negligence
Economic and non-economic losses affect families’ payout. The amount varies depending on the decedent’s status and the family’s struggles after the decedent’s death.
The economic factors in medical negligence resulting in a wrongful death case include the following:
- Medical expenses before death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Household services
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earnings
- Number of dependents
Family members may demand reimbursement for the decedent’s medical bills. The amount of reimbursement for medical expenses will depend on the length of hospital stay, healthcare facility, and US region.
For example, a patient who stayed for seven days in the ICU may pay less than one who stayed for one month. The region where you live also determines the cost of a hospital stay. For instance, the average hospital stay in Oregon is $18,336, while it costs $6,597 in Wyoming.
The negligent medical practitioner must also pay for reasonable funeral expenses. Funeral services can include embalming, cremation, caskets, and burial vaults. On average, a funeral with viewing and burial costs $7,848, higher than a funeral with cremation, worth $6,971. Hence, if the family demands $15,000 for funeral expenses, the court or the other party may reduce the amount.
If the decedent had regularly done household services, the family members could get compensation for the value of such services. For example, suppose the deceased husband maintained the garden before his death. After he died, the surviving spouse hired a gardener to care for their lawn. In this case, the at-fault party may pay for the gardener’s salary.
The dependents can also demand compensation for lost wages and loss of future earnings. The court or other party will consider the decedent’s age, occupation, and work-life expectancy when determining compensation. For example, the family of a dermatologist may receive more than the beneficiaries of a lobby attendant. The number of dependents may also affect the payout since three minor children need more financial support than only one.
The surviving family members can also demand non-economic damages, which include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
Pain and suffering refer to the emotional distress, grief, and anguish the family members experience due to a loved one’s death. Someone who lost a family member may feel depressed, causing hopelessness and unexplained physical problems. Depression can also cause a loss of interest in normal activities. Overall, it can affect a person’s quality of life.
Loss of consortium pertains to the loss of physical and emotional intimacy a partner experiences when their loved one dies. It includes loss of sex, companionship, and emotional support. In contrast, loss of companionship refers to the loss of the shared experiences and activities family members enjoyed with their loved ones. These experiences include hobbies, vacations, and holidays.
Family members must prove they suffered actual harm to establish a claim for non-economic damages. You can do this by providing testimony, medical records, and other evidence.
Average Wrongful Death Settlement for Medical Negligence Cases
On average, beneficiaries in medical negligence cases receive $500,000 to over a million in settlement. The amount is more than the usual settlements in personal injury cases since the negligent act resulted in a fatality. The wrongful death settlement varies depending on a number of factors, such as economic and non-economic losses.
However, the court can impose a cap on medical malpractice damages. For instance, Alaska imposes a $400,000 cap, while Mississippi has a $500,000 limit on non-economic damages. The cap seeks to prevent excessive recoveries since the court and jury cannot quickly assess emotional harm.
Notable Medical Negligence Cases
Despite the complexity of medical negligence claims, some plaintiffs have successfully recovered millions in damages. These cases include the estate of Torres, Iturralde, and Murray.
Estate of Torres v. Gonzalez-Garcia, et al.
At 10 am on July 21, 2015, Lilia Torres was scheduled to have a C-section delivery of her child. However, the doctor did not perform the surgery until midnight on July 22, 2015. The complaint alleged that Lilia experienced massive blood loss due to her doctor’s negligence. Rodolfo’s attorney stated that the proposed settlement amount did not satisfy the family, so the case went to trial.
In April 2019, a Broward County jury awarded $24.5 million to the Torres family. It awarded $3.675 million to Rodolfo Vargas Chavez, Lilia’s husband. Moreover, it granted $4.9 million each to the couple’s older children, Karla, Octavio, and Estrella. The three children and their father were previously awarded $1 million each.
The jury also granted $6.125 million to Lilian, the baby Lilia delivered on that fateful morning. According to the jury, Lilian and her older siblings experienced a loss of parental companionship and pain and suffering due to their mother’s death.
Rodolfo’s attorney stated that the jury connected with the surviving family’s testimony. Consequently, the jury understood the struggles Lilia’s husband and children experienced. It led to the award of more than $20 million.
Iturralde v. Hilo Medical Center
One of the most controversial wrongful death lawsuits involved Arturo Iturralde. In January 2001, Arturo went to Hilo Medical Center due to leg weakness caused by frequent falls. Dr. Robert Ricketson, an orthopedic surgeon, diagnosed Arturo with degenerative spondylolisthesis. Spinal fusion surgery could relieve Arturo’s condition, so Dr. Ricketson scheduled the surgery.
Dr. Ricketson instructed the hospital to order the necessary tools, including two titanium implant rods. The sterilized tools were sent to the operating room, but no hospital staff completed an inventory of the tools. Although a nurse told Dr. Ricketson about such an issue, he proceeded with the surgery.
Dr. Ricketson was ready to attach the two titanium rods to Arturo’s spine, but the staff could not find the rods. Hence, he used portions of a stainless steel screwdriver as replacements. However, the screwdriver snapped a few days after the surgery. As a result, Dr. Ricketson performed surgery to remove the screwdriver. Unfortunately, Arturo’s condition worsened, and he died on June 18, 2003, after several surgeries.
The jury granted Iturralde’s family $5.6 million in damages. It decided that the $2.2 million would cover medical expenses while the $3.4 million would be punitive damages.
Murray vs. Valley Health System
On April 20, 2013, 29-year-old LaQuinta Whitley Murray went to Centennial Hills Hospital due to severe pain. She suffered extreme pain from sickle cell anemia crisis and acute chronic anemia. Moreover, her husband alleged that the hospital had a staffing shortage during her wife’s stay.
The family’s attorney argued that the hospital staff administered ketorolac tromethamine or Toradol to Whitley Murray above the recommended dose. As a result, she had five cardiac arrests, which caused her death. On the other hand, the hospital’s lawyer asserted that the nurses acted within the required standard of care.
The jury ruled in favor of Whitley Murray’s family, with the amount of compensation being $43 million. The $10.5 million will cover compensatory damages, such as medical expenses. On the other hand, the remaining $32.4 million will serve as punitive damages.
Types of Medical Negligence
Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases often complain about misdiagnosis, surgical errors, prescription errors, anesthesia errors, and birth injuries.
A misdiagnosis involves an incorrect or delayed diagnosis. It also includes failure to diagnose medical conditions. But misdiagnosis, in itself, does not automatically give rise to a medical malpractice case. The medical professional’s negligence must have caused injury or death to a patient before the victim can institute a claim.
For example, in 2022, a 15-year-old girl went to the emergency room due to stomach cramping and vomiting. She also experienced low fever and chills. The hospital staff gave her IV fluids to combat dehydration, but her condition worsened. As a result, she went to another hospital.
Her doctors ruled out appendicitis even though she felt tenderness all over her abdomen. They diagnosed her with a viral infection. Her condition worsened until she was rushed again to a hospital, where she got an emergency ultrasound. It turned out that she had a perforated appendix.
Surgical errors pertain to unexpected mistakes during surgery. It can happen due to incompetence, improper work process, insufficient planning, fatigue, and neglect. For example, in Iturralde v. Hilo Medical Center, the surgeon proceeded to open the patient despite the nurse telling him that no one had done an inventory of the tools. Hence, there was insufficient planning on the surgeon’s part, resulting in Iturralde’s death.
In 2022, a woman also died due to alleged surgical errors. Tanesha Walker went to New Life Plastic Surgery for two cosmetic procedures: liposuction and a Brazilian butt lift. The doctors said the procedures were successful, but the 45-year-old mother died after a few days. Hence, her family is now seeking legal advice.
Researchers found that 7,000 to 9,000 people die due to medication errors. Thousands of patients experience adverse complications but do not report such side effects. Prescription errors occur when a health professional prescribes or administers the incorrect medication to a patient. They may also occur when a prescription drug is administered to the wrong patient.
Many factors contribute to prescription errors. It can happen due to a doctor’s inadequate medical knowledge or poor handwriting, leading to the wrong medication. Similarly, if patients buy from a disorganized pharmacy, they can receive the wrong prescription. They may also get an ineffective one due to mishandling.
The causes of anesthesia errors include lack of experience, carelessness, and failure to monitor. Anesthesia has several side effects, so doctors must administer it correctly. The possible side effects include the following:
- Chills caused by hypothermia
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
Some patients even experience nerve damage, collapsed lungs, and postoperative delirium. If the anesthesiologist’s negligence leads to complications, the patient or their family can file a medical malpractice claim.
Birth injuries due to medical negligence happen when health professionals fail to meet the standard of care during pregnancy and delivery. It may include the following negligent acts:
- Failure to treat severe tearing in the mother
- Failure to perform a necessary C-section
- Failure to monitor the baby and mother’s vital signs
On July 2, 2010, a woman suffered a tear during childbirth. The complaint stated that the physician did not diagnose her promptly. The jury granted her $10 million, while the husband is set to receive one million for loss of consortium.
Did you know?
In 2021, medical malpractice payouts totaled more than $3.1 billion. The amount represents over 9,000 payment reports.
Find a Wrongful Death Lawyer
If a medical practitioner acts negligently, resulting in the death of a loved one, the deceased’s family can file a wrongful death case. The payout depends on the economic losses, such as medical expenses, funeral costs, and the value of household services. The parties will also consider the non-economic losses like loss of consortium and companionship.
The Malpractice Center can help you understand your legal rights and options if you lose a loved one due to medical negligence. Our site has various legal information about medical negligence and wrongful death claims. We also offer a free consultation where you can discuss your case with an experienced attorney. Book a free case evaluation today!
Obtain legal assistance and get the compensation you deserve. The Malpractice Center can match you with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
FAQs on Average Payout for Medical Negligence Resulting in Death
How much should you pay for a wrongful death attorney?
You can hire a wrongful death lawyer without paying up-front fees. Many lawyers offer a contingency fee arrangement where they will only get paid if they win your case. The lawyer typically gets a percentage of the award or settlement money, usually between 30 to 50 percent.
Even if you signed a consent form before the incident, can you still institute a claim?
Yes, you can still file a case because the consent form does not allow healthcare professionals to act negligently. The form only informs the patient of the procedure, possible risks, and benefits.
How long does a medical negligence case usually take?
Due to its complexity and technicality, a medical negligence case typically resolves within two to three years. In contrast, claims involving minor injuries can end within a few months.