What is a Wrongful Death Case?

What is a Wrongful Death Case?

What is a Wrongful Death Case?

Unfortunately, many of the people who come to our firm for help have experienced a great tragedy in their lives. In instances where the wrongful conduct of another has caused a death, these families want to know whether or not they have what’s known as a wrongful death case. The easiest answer to that question comes in the form of an example.  Let’s say that during the course of a surgical procedure, a doctor commits an act of medical malpractice.  As a result of the malpractice, the patient requires a long admission to the hospital, incurs significant medical bills and suffers greatly before passing away months later. What type of case is this and what types of damages may the patient’s family recover?  Generally speaking, there are two separate causes of action in this scenario that are both based in the doctor’s underlying negligence.  The first cause of action is commonly known as a “survivorship” action.  This action is brought on behalf of the estate of the deceased patient for all of the damages the patient suffered while he or she was alive.  Said another way, the fact that the patient died does not end the right of the patient’s estate to recover those types of damages. The second cause of action is what’s known as a “wrongful death case.”  This wrongful death cases arises out of the same conduct as the survivorship case (the negligence of the doctor), but it differs significantly in terms of the types of recovery that are available.  The wrongful death case is not brought for the benefit of the estate of the deceased patient.  Instead, it is brought on behalf of, and for the benefit of, what the law calls the decedent’s “statutory beneficiaries.”  Again, generally speaking, the “statutory beneficiaries” are the members of the decedent’s immediate family and “next of kin.”  In this sense, the law recognizes that when a person dies as a result of the wrongful conduct of another, those who loved him or her the most suffer their own, special kind of loss that requires fair and adequate compensation. In the example above, there would be two causes of action contained in a single case:  a survivorship action and a wrongful death action.