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What is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death in Washington D.C.?

A woman wondering if she should file a medical malpractice claim or a wrongful death claim after her husband dies during a medical procedure.

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider harms a patient by failing to follow the recognized standard of care. Wrongful death is the death of a person that is caused by the wrongful act or neglect (failure to act) of another person or organization.

In some cases, medical malpractice leads to the patient’s death. When the deceased’s loved ones rightfully consider legal steps to hold the at-fault healthcare providers accountable, they may wonder whether they should pursue a medical malpractice claim or wrongful death claim. The answer will depend on the circumstances of the case, and the goals of the persons filing the claim.

The primary differences between medical malpractice and wrongful death claims are who may recover compensation and the time allowed to file a claim.

The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates is a distinctive law firm that focuses on medical malpractice cases in the Washington, D.C., area. Dr. Michael Wilson, who is both a lawyer and a physician, has established an impressive track record of recovering more than $100 million in compensation for patients and families.

Our legal team has extensive experience investigating a wide range of cases involving medical malpractice. If you have lost a loved one while they were under medical care and you believe the care was substandard, contact our law office for a free legal consultation. If we believe that pursuing a medical malpractice claim is appropriate, we will do everything we can to help you. Contact us today at 202.335.5302 or online.

What is Medical Malpractice in Washington, D.C.?

Medical malpractice is when a medical provider causes harm to a patient by not following the recognized standard of care. Standard of care is the treatment that another reasonably prudent medical professional would have provided under similar circumstances. If there has been a violation of the standard of care, the plaintiff in a lawsuit must show that the patient suffered harm that would not have occurred otherwise.

Under the District of Columbia Code § 16–2801, a healthcare provider is defined as “an individual or entity licensed or authorized under District law to provide healthcare service.” The statute lists more than 25 healthcare providers covered by the statute, including physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, nursing facilities, pharmacies, and other individual healthcare practitioners.

Washington, D.C. requires the injured patient or family members bringing the suit to notify a healthcare provider that they plan to file a claim at least 90 days before filing the lawsuit. If there is a government entity involved, there may be a specific shorter notice requirement.

The overall statute of limitations deadline on a claim, after which the plaintiff cannot pursue compensation, is three years from the date of injury.

The District of Columbia also requires that the parties in a medical malpractice case go through nonbinding mediation at the start of a case.

In a malpractice case filed in Washington, D.C., there are no limits or “caps” on the amount of compensation you may recover, but D.C. courts do follow a strict “contributory negligence” rule. Under this rule, if the court finds that you have contributed to your medical condition or injury in any way, you cannot recover damages. For example, if the patient skipped an appointment for a follow-up examination, this could be a problem in a claim.

If a malpractice claim goes to trial, a jury could award compensation that is a combination of economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are typically medical expenses and lost income. Noneconomic damages may be awarded for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.

Exhausted surgeons after a long operation.

What is Wrongful Death in Washington, D.C.?

Wrongful death, under District of Columbia Code § 16–2701, is the death of a person that is caused by a wrongful act or neglect (or a failure to act) of another person or organization. The action that led to the death has to be of the sort that could have formed the basis of a personal injury claim had the deceased survived (which includes medical malpractice).

Washington, D.C., law allows the personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased’s surviving spouse or domestic partner. If there is no spouse or domestic partner, the personal representative may file on behalf of the next of kin, including children, parents and then siblings of the deceased.

The personal representative of an estate is named in a person’s will. When there is no will, the probate court will name a personal representative of the estate. This is typically a close family member who steps forward to handle the deceased’s affairs.

Under the Wrongful Death Act of 2012, the statute of limitations on a wrongful death lawsuit provides only two years from the date of death to file a claim.

Wrongful death cases also are subject to the contributory negligence doctrine in Washington, D.C. If the court finds that the deceased contributed to their death in any way, the estate cannot obtain compensation from the defendant.

There is no requirement to go through mediation with a wrongful death claim. As with all lawsuits, however, a wrongful death case can and is likely to be settled outside of court.

If a claim is successful in court, a judge or jury will decide how much compensation to award the victim’s estate based on the losses the surviving family members have suffered due to the victim’s death. If the deceased had a will, the appointed personal representative of the estate will have the authority to distribute compensation among the family members in proportion to each person’s suffering and loss.

What Damages Are Offered in a Wrongful Death Claim?

If there is no will and there are no directions in a jury’s or judge’s award, damages go to the surviving spouse or domestic partner and/or closest next of kin in succession.

Damages in a wrongful death claim are not capped and may include payments for:

  • Medical bills for care provided to the victim during his or her illness or injury
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of financial support, including wages and the value of benefits the deceased would likely have earned, had he or she lived
  • The value of lost services such as support, care, companionship, training, education, personal advice, and other potential services the deceased would have provided his or her family.

Contact a DC Medical Malpractice Legal Expert Today

Medical malpractice claims do include cases in which the patient has died. A majority of lawsuits of any kind are settled out of court through negotiations for a lump-sum payment.  The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates can review your case with you at no charge. Contact us today at 202.335.5302 or online if you believe your loved one’s death was due to the negligence of a doctor or other healthcare provider.

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