Area of Law:
Wrongful death claims are in the news again, this time after the family of the late Michael Jackson decided to bring a new lawsuit against the late pop star's concert promoter AEG Live. The family have been alleging that the doctor hired by AEG Live gave Jackson an overdose of propofol – a powerful anaesthetic, that caused Jackson's death.
Legally speaking, a wrongful death is caused by the negligence, recklessness, or the deliberate wrong action of another individual or entity. In Jackson's case, it's his then doctor that is being held responsible for the death of the pop star. But it need not be your doctor, or somebody you trust. It could be anybody, a product, or even a car crash that caused the death. If, however, the surviving members of the decedent are to file a wrongful death lawsuit then they would need to establish a direct correlation between the actions or the behavior of the accused and how that caused the death of their family member.
To say that wrongful death claims are tricky to establish would be an understatement. A number of factors are taken into consideration and only a skilled attorney can help you win it.
In this post we look at what people suspecting their family members were killed due to the negligence of a doctor, or that of the staff of a hospital or a nursing home, should do.
Who can sue?
You have to be related to the decedent and/or be dependent on them financially. Only those who have suffered emotionally and financially (because of their relation to the deceased) can bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
In case of nursing homes, the staff can be sued for willful abuse (which is, sadly, not unheard of) and negligence. Errors made by doctors are also punishable. Anybody who fails to do their job properly and whose careless or unethical conduct results in somebody's death, can be and should be brought to law.
You will have to act fast
There's a time window that needs to be honored if you are thinking of bringing a lawsuit against those you think caused the death of your loved one. This time window would differ from state to state but if you violate it your case may well be disbarred.
This time frame may vary from two years to one-and-a-half years to six months depending on whether the claim is being filed with your city, the county, or the state.
Also bear in mind that if your initial claim is rejected at one level, you still have the option to file it elsewhere but that would need to take place within the overall time window.
So time is of the essence with wrongful death lawsuits and you will have to act fast to meet the deadline.
Compensatory damages you can expect
The law under which a wrongful death claim operates seeks to redress the wrong done to you, by punishing the guilty for their wrongful conduct. While nothing is going to bring back the deceased, punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiffs to somewhat compensate for the loss of their loved one.
These may include compensating the plaintiff for the loss of companionship, the loss of wages, medical bills, funeral expenses, and above all, the emotional distress caused by the incident. Again, the specific damages to be awarded would depend on the state you are in.
If a wrongful death lawsuit is brought against a hospital, a nursing home, or a pharmaceutical company – basically corporations or lifeless entities – the aim would be to hit them where it would hurt the most, i.e. their bottomline, so that they would be more careful in the future when dealing with other people's health and life.
Conclusion: Wrongful death lawsuits are rarely straightforward. The evidence has to be solid and it has to convincingly tie back to the chain of events that led to the death. Particularly in case of medical negligence or misinformation, things have the potential to go wrong at each and every stage, which means there's a lot that the law will have to look at before passing its judgment. This is a time-consuming process and time is one luxury that the surviving members of the decedent's family cannot afford. For this reason alone, it's advisable to pick up the phone and speak to an attorney in your area, only for your peace of mind, if nothing else. Initial consultations are usually free so you don't have anything to lose. In fact, you will learn about your legal rights, how much time you have got to file a claim, and what you can expect out of a claim. Whether you want to proceed or not would be up to you, but at least you will know where your stand legally.