Wrongful death occurs when the intentional or unintentional acts or negligence of one party results in the death of another. Wrongful death can occur in a variety of circumstances including motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, unsafe premises accidents, workplace accidents, and more. In the United States, medical malpractice is one of the leading causes of wrongful death- second only to motor vehicle accidents. According to a study that was published in the Journal of Patient Safety in September 2013, medical malpractice results in more than 210,000 deaths in the United States Each year.
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The Financial Impact of Medical Malpractice Resulting in Death in Illinois
Medical malpractice costs US hospitals billions of dollars annually. Unfortunately, the state of Illinois is not exempt from the financial impact of medical malpractice. Throughout the past decade, Illinois public hospitals paid more than $180 million for medical errors that resulted in patient deaths. According to an investigation by the Better Government Association, the majority of these payouts, more than $150 million, were due to medical malpractice fatalities that occurred at Cook County hospitals and the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. Illinois- based VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals paid a hefty sum over the last decade as well, with all five paying out approximately $19.3 million.
The amount of payouts completed is only part of the story, however. Only a fraction of medical errors are even challenged in court. Not only are some cases never pursued by family members of the victims, but many Chicago personal injury lawyers state that they prefer to only take cases that they are confident they can win. A study published in 2013 revealed that the number of preventable deaths in America that are due to medical malpractice could be as high as 440,000 annually, which would make medical malpractice the third leading cause of death in the nation and would account for approximately one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States every year.
What Are Common Acts of Medical Malpractice that Can Result in Wrongful Death?
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider fails to provide the same standard of care that a reasonable health care provider would have provided under the same circumstances. In the United States, approximately one in five medical errors or acts of medical negligence result in serious consequences or wrongful death. Examples of medical malpractice that could result in death include:
- Medication Errors
- Failure to Properly Diagnose
- Unreasonably Delaying Treatment
- Improper Treatment/ Procedures
- Anesthesia Errors
- Surgical Errors
- Use of Experimental Drugs, Products or Procedures
What Can Illinois Residents Do When Medical Malpractice Results in Death?
According to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, surviving spouses and children of the deceased can bring legal action against the person, corporation or entity that is liable for the death. Under the law, family members are eligible to receive monetary compensation for damages incurred because of malpractice. Survivors are successful with a wrongful death lawsuit can be awarded substantial sums of money- sometimes millions of dollars. Damages that can be recovered include:
- Lost Wages
- Medical Expenses
- Funeral and Burial Costs
- Grief and Suffering
- Loss of Companionship
- Punitive Damages
In order for the surviving family of a victim to establish a successful claim under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, evidence must prove:
- That the responsible party had a legal obligation to the victim to act in a certain way.
- That the responsible party failed to act in accordance with that obligation, and
- That the responsible party’s breach of duty to the victim caused the plaintiff to suffer punitive damages.
Evidence that is helpful in proving liability includes such things as medical records and reports, testimony from expert witnesses, and declarations from witnesses who saw or heard incidents surrounding the death or cause of death. Additionally, the state of Illinois requires that sworn testimony be submitted by another health care provider stating that the responsible party violated the standard of care. Unlike criminal cases, where the burden of proof must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, with wrongful death cases it simply has to be proven that the acts of the responsible party were more likely than not to have caused the death.
In many cases, an experienced personal injury lawyer can negotiate with malpractice insurance companies, health care facilities and other entities to obtain a satisfactory settlement without ever going to court. Most wrongful death cases are resolved without ever entering a courtroom because the defendant wants to avoid publicity and the plaintiff doesn’t want to go through the stress a trial would bring. When a pre-trial settlement cannot be reached, however, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed and go before a judge or jury. Depending upon the complexity of the case, it may take anywhere from months to years for the claim to become resolved.