Medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the United States. As many as 440,000 Americans die each year due to mistakes by medical professionals.
These deaths can be devastating to the families left behind. Loved ones feel angry and helpless. Often, they must also struggle with bills and other difficult financial realities in the wake of their loss.
Wrongful death claims can help families get the justice and resources they deserve. Here’s what you need to know about filing these claims and winning.
When Are Wrongful Death Claims Appropriate?
A death is considered “wrongful” when it is caused by the negligence or willful intent of another party. Common examples of wrongful death situations include:
Families may file wrongful death claims against parties they believe to be directly or indirectly responsible for a loved one’s death.
Wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits. They can be filed independently or in tandem with criminal proceedings.
The Purpose of the Claim
There are three common reasons why families file wrongful death claims:
- To get justice for their lost loved one
- To prevent other families from suffering the same fate
- To ease the financial burden of their loss
Civil suits can force the individuals at fault to pay for their actions, even if a criminal case is impossible or unsuccessful. These suits can also force systems to change, protecting other people from the same mistakes or errors in the future.
Claims can also help families recoup some of the costs they face after losing a loved one. These can include:
- Medical expenses related to the erroneous care
- Funeral expenses
- Lost wages and income
- Lost care and support
- Lost companionship
- Pain and suffering
Who Can File One?
Wrongful death claims must necessarily be made by someone other than the victim. In most cases, claims are filed by the family of the deceased. This may include their:
- Estate executrix
In most circumstances, the closest available next of kin or the estate executrix should file the claim. This will give the filer the strongest possible case.
What You Need to Win a Claim
To win a wrongful death claim, families need to prove two things.
First, they need to show that their loved one died due to the intentional actions or negligence of someone else. Specifically, they need to show that the deceased was not in any way responsible for their own death. Depending on the circumstances, families may also need to show that the person being sued had a “responsibility to care.”
Second, the family must demonstrate that they have been directly and negatively impacted by the loss. This can include:
- Mental and emotional impacts
- Physical impacts
- Financial impacts
In each case, families will need to quantify the damages they have suffered. For example, they will need to calculate:
- The benefits and wages they have lost as the result of their loved one’s death
- The funeral and end-of-life costs incurred
- New costs incurred as they pay for work or care the deceased formerly provided
Calculating mental and emotional impacts is more complicated. Families will need the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney to understand how those figures are legally determined.
Filing and Proving a Claim
A wrongful death lawyer can help a victim’s family file their suit in the appropriate court. To be successful, however, the family will need to be able to prove that their loved one died as a result of neglect or intentional action.
In cases of medical malpractice, for instance, families might need to provide:
- Their loved one’s medical records
- Documentation of the accepted standard of care relevant to the loved one’s condition or case
- Testimony from a doctor that the care provided did not align with the relevant standard of care
The case will go before a judge and both the family and the individual being accused will have an opportunity to make their cases. The judge will then evaluate:
- The evidence
- Legal precedent
- The specific circumstances involved
If the judge rules in favor of the family, the next step will be the evaluation of the damages being claimed. The judge will decide if the amount the family is asking for is reasonable in light of the circumstances. Judges may award families what they’ve asked for, more, or less, depending on their assessment of the case.
Why a Wrongful Death Attorney Is Key to Winning Your Claim
Hiring good wrongful death attorneys is a critical step in filing and winning a claim. There are several main reasons for this.
First, losing a loved one is a deeply traumatic event. Families are often seriously struggling. They may be barely able to manage day-to-day responsibilities, much less the intense and emotional work of filing, managing, and successfully proving their claim in court.
Having attorneys handle the majority of your case gives you the time, space, and energy you need to focus on your life, family, and responsibilities to the deceased’s estate.
Second, a wrongful death attorney understands Oklahoma law in ways that a layperson does not. Your attorney will be able to:
- Navigate the court system competently
- Identify and comply with critical cutoff and filing dates
- Calculate your damages in ways that comply with the law and legal precedents
- Clearly articulate your case
- Find and identify the best experts and witnesses to testify on your behalf, if necessary
Good attorneys can meaningfully convey your loss and the terrible circumstances surrounding it to the judge on the case. This is something that families often cannot do themselves in the midst of their grief.
Third, a wrongful death lawyer knows what to watch out for. They understand the ways that providers, insurance companies, and other defendants typically try to get out of responsibility for cases like yours. Your lawyer can help you structure your case in a way that does not leave loopholes and keeps the guilty parties on the hook.
Choosing the right attorney can make or break your case, and it is important that you hire a good attorney right from the start. If you attempt to sue on your own and the case fails, you will not get another chance.
Schedule a Consultation Today
If your loved one suffered a wrongful death, the Barkett Law Firm can help. We specialize in wrongful death cases and can help you get the justice you deserve.
Schedule a free consultation today to learn how our experts can help you.