What is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death?

A patient may die due to a doctor’s malpractice. In that case, their family might have the right to file a wrongful death claim. However, medical malpractice does not always result in wrongful death. 

Medical malpractice and wrongful death are two separate legal causes of action. Understanding the difference between the two claims can help you navigate the claims process.

How is Medical Malpractice Different from Wrongful Death?

Medical negligence, errors, and intentional acts can lead to a medical malpractice claim. At the heart of the claim is the fact that the physician or other health care provider failed to meet the standard of care, resulting in harm to the patient. If the patient survives, they can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical provider.

Proving a medical malpractice claim requires you to provide evidence demonstrating:

  • Duty – The medical provider owed you a duty of care 
  • Breach of Duty – The medical provider breached the duty of care by failing to meet the accepted standard of care
  • Causation – The breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your injury
  • Damages – You sustained damages because of the breach of duty

On the other hand, if the patient dies because of medical malpractice, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim. 

Proving wrongful death due to a medical provider’s negligence is similar to proving a medical malpractice claim. However, instead of proving that the malpractice caused the patient harm, the family must prove that the malpractice caused the patient’s death. 

Examples of medical malpractice claims include:

A wrongful death claim can arise from medical malpractice. However, wrongful death claims may also arise from other personal injury cases, including product liability claims, automobile accidents, premises liability claims, and workplace accidents.

Are There Different Rules That Apply in Each Case?

Wrongful death and medical malpractice cases share many similarities. However, there are some very distinctive differences between the two causes of action.

Different Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit. If you do not assert your legal rights before the deadline expires, your lawsuit could be dismissed without the court considering the merits of the case.

Most medical malpractice lawsuits in Florida must be filed within two years. The time begins on the date you discovered or should have reasonably discovered the malpractice. However, you must file your lawsuit within four years from the date the malpractice occurred. 

On the other hand, Florida wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the person’s death. 

Before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must provide the defendants with a pre-suit notification. However, this notification is not required when filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Available Damages

Medical malpractice damages include economic damages (financial losses) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). There is no limit or cap on economic damages in a medical malpractice claim. 

However, Florida laws cap non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case to $500,000 for practitioners and $750,000 for non-practitioners. If the malpractice resulted in wrongful death or permanent vegetative state, the cap increases to $1 million.

Florida’s wrongful death statute allows for compensation of damages for:

  • Loss of services and support from your family member
  • Medical bills incurred between the injury date and the date of death
  • Loss of future financial support and services from your family member
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
  • Emotional distress 
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of protection and companionship from your family member

Generally, damages are not capped in wrongful death claims, except for claims arising from medical malpractice. 

It should be noted that even though the above caps remain unchanged in the Florida statutes, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that caps on wrongful death and medical malpractice claims are unconstitutional. 

Punitive damages may be awarded in some wrongful death and medical malpractice cases. These damages are not intended to compensate the injured party for losses. 

Instead, punitive damages “punish” the defendant for gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing. There are caps on the amount of punitive damages that a party may receive. 

Who Files the Claim?

In a medical malpractice case, the patient files a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages. A spouse might have the right to file a loss of consortium claim related to their spouse’s personal injury resulting from medical malpractice. 

Florida’s wrongful death statute states that the surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit. That includes the surviving spouse, children, and parents. It also includes blood relatives who depended on the deceased person for support.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in South Florida if You Have Questions About the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death

The legal requirements for each case differ. An experienced Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorney understands the differences and legal requirements for each cause of action. If you are unsure what your next step should be after an injury or family death, seek legal advice as soon as possible.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact the Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyers at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers at the location nearest you for a free consultation:

Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Fort Lauderdale Law Office
200 S.E. 6th Street #203
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
(954) 287-0566

Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Boca Raton Law Office
7000 W Palmetto Park Rd #500
Boca Raton, FL 33433
(561) 347-7770

Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – West Palm Beach Law Office
319 Clematis St #203
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
(561) 556-7873