California has among the highest number of medical malpractice payouts in the US. Medical malpractice is, unfortunately, very common in the state. And in the worst cases, it leads to wrongful death.

Below, our attorneys explain how medical malpractice causes death. We cover how surviving loved ones can get the justice they deserve.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice can occur when a healthcare provider’s actions – or their failure to act – harm a patient.

Examples of medical malpractice include: 

  • Medication errors 
  • Failure to monitor  
  • Delayed or wrong diagnosis 
  • Failure to obtain consent (where practical) 
  • Lack of treatment 
  • Surgical errors

To be considered medical malpractice, we must be able to show three things.  

  • Standard of care: Health professionals are expected to show patients a reasonable level of care. This is what could reasonably be expected of a health professional at a given stage in their career. For example, the law won’t hold a new doctor to the same professional standards as a highly trained surgeon.  
  • Breach of duty: The provider acted negligently in some way. For example, they didn’t read a chart before giving out the wrong medication.  
  • Injury: The victim suffered injury due to the provider’s negligence. If there’s no injury, or injury but no negligence, there’s no claim. 

What Is Wrongful Death in California?

Wrongful death occurs when someone dies due to another person’s negligent actions or omissions. For example, if a drunk driver kills a pedestrian, this could be a wrongful death claim.

Judges gavel and stethoscope surrounded by red and white pills concept

Medical malpractice, then, can lead to wrongful death. If a patient dies due to a healthcare provider’s negligence, then surviving family members may have a claim.

Examples of medical malpractice causing wrongful death include: 

  • Failing to diagnose a life-threatening condition. The patient dies as a result. 
  • Prescribing medication without checking for allergies. The patient dies after receiving drugs they’re allergic to.  
  • Discharging a patient too soon. The failure to monitor the patient causes death.

Proving a Wrongful Death Due to Medical Malpractice

It’s not easy to prove that medical malpractice caused injury, let alone death.

For example, you must show that the provider acted negligently based on their skill and experience level. This is a broad test that requires expert evidence to prove.

It’s also hard to determine who is truly at fault. For example, responsibility may be shared between various team members. And the facility may also be at fault. Proving fault, and apportioning blame, is challenging.

We must also show a clear link between the death and the provider’s acts or failure to act. It’s not enough to show the person died. There must be a causal link between the negligence and the death.

Wrongful death claims can seem overwhelming, especially when medical negligence is involved. Our California wrongful death lawyers are on hand, waiting to help.

Legal Process for Wrongful Death Claims

There’s a set process for commencing any civil legal action in California. This includes wrongful death and medical malpractice claims. The steps are as follows.

Contact an Attorney

Your first step is calling a California wrongful death lawyer. They will determine if you have a claim and the legal standing to file a lawsuit. They can explain your legal rights, your options for proceeding, and what your claim may be worth.

Notice of Intent to Sue

In medical malpractice claims, you cannot file a lawsuit without notifying the healthcare provider first. This is known as giving notice of intent to sue.

You must give the healthcare provider at least 90 days’ notice before filing a lawsuit. There’s no set format, but the notice should include: 

  • Your reasons for filing a lawsuit  
  • The deceased person’s injuries 
  • The compensation sought i.e. what losses you are claiming

The notice should also include confirmation from a medical expert that there are grounds for proceeding.

Your wrongful death attorney can explain what, specifically, your notice should include. They’ll locate a medical expert and present the evidence in support of your case.

Filing the Lawsuit

There’s a chance that you may be able to resolve matters very informally with the healthcare provider. This means there would be no need to file a claim. However, this is uncommon.

Stethoscope and judges gavel with legal textbook for medical practice claim in background

To protect your legal rights, the next step is filing a civil lawsuit. Your attorney will handle this part on your behalf. It involves filing the right paperwork with the appropriate California court.

Evidence Gathering

Your attorney will work on building the strongest possible case on your loved one’s behalf. This means gathering sufficient evidence to prove the losses claimed. Evidence includes: 

  • Photos of the deceased’s injuries 
  • Medical records 
  • Funeral and burial costs  
  • Proof of lost earnings 
  • Medical expenses incurred before death

You’ll also still need your expert witness. They can confirm that the healthcare provider did not meet the required standards of care.

Settlement Negotiations

By this point, all parties should know the strengths and weaknesses of their case(s). Negotiations can take place at any point. However, your attorney may advise against accepting an offer until you have all the relevant facts.

Wrongful death negotiations are complex. It’s not easy to quantify what a claim is worth. After all, you can’t put a price on someone’s life.

However, your attorney will explain what you might consider a fair offer. They can help you decide whether to accept an offer, and the risks and benefits of rejecting an offer.

Court Trial (Not Always Required)

If there’s no offer, or it’s unacceptable, the case goes to trial. There’s no guarantee you will win, and the court could award less than the original settlement offer. However, there’s also the chance you will secure a higher award.

Should a trial seem likely, our experienced trial attorneys will explain the pros and cons, and what to expect.

Wrongful Death Damages in California

The goal of your lawsuit is to get justice for the loss of a loved one. This means suing for various types of damages, depending on your losses. The types of damages you can claim include economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are measurable losses of monetary value. They include:  

  • Funeral and burial expenses 
  • Financial support lost due to the deceased’s death 
  • Monetary value of chores no longer performed by the deceased 
  • Lost wages/predicted income

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are harder to measure. They’re based on emotional harm and include: 

  • Loss of consortium/affection 
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Loss of emotional/financial support  
  • Trauma of the deceased’s pain before death

Your attorney can explain how such losses could be calculated. Every case is completely unique, but there are legal precedents and guidelines to follow.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California

The statute of limitations is a time limit for bringing a civil lawsuit. You may lose your right to claim if you file out of time. What time limits apply if you file a claim for wrongful death? Let’s take a look.

In California, you normally have two years from the date of death to bring a wrongful death claim. However, there are slightly different deadlines for medical malpractice, or medical negligence.

If medical malpractice causes death, surviving family members must claim by whichever date comes first

  • Three years from the date of death; or  
  • One year after discovering that medical negligence caused the death.

This could mean that you don’t have as much time to file a claim as you might think. And there are very few exceptions to the rule. If you suspect medical malpractice, contact the May Firm as soon as possible for help.

Why You Need a California Wrongful Death Lawyer

There are many reasons why you need an experienced wrongful death attorney at this time.  

  • Wrongful death attorneys understand how to investigate liability. They know how to determine who – and what – caused your loved one’s death.  
  • A wrongful death law firm knows how to present evidence in the most compelling, persuasive way. They can identify what evidence is most relevant and use it to your advantage. 
  • Medical malpractice lawsuits are complex. Your attorney can spot any possible weaknesses in your claim, and explain how you might overcome them. 
  • A wrongful death claim is hard to quantify. Lawyers for wrongful death claims can determine how much the case is truly worth. They will sue all parties responsible to help ensure you get a fair award.  
  • If your case goes to trial, a wrongful death lawyer knows what lies ahead. They can guide you through the process, ensuring you have confidence in their approach. 
  • There are many filing deadlines and procedural steps to follow when filing a wrongful death claim. Without an attorney on your side, you risk making avoidable mistakes that could jeopardize your case. 

Your loved one deserves justice. Bring a wrongful death claim with help from an experienced law firm.

Retain a Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Wrongful Death

Losing a loved one is always traumatic. And it’s even more distressing if someone else causes their death.

Although no amount of compensation can replace them, you still deserve to seek justice on their behalf. That’s why our wrongful death law firm is here for you. Surviving family members can contact us to discuss their claim and we’ll explain the legal options.

At the May Firm, our attorneys know how difficult wrongful death suits can be. We won’t just offer legal advice. We give you the emotional and moral support you need to manage the legal process. After all, we treat clients like family members.

And upholding your legal rights is our priority.

We work on a “no win, no fee” basis. If we don’t win your case, you don’t owe us anything. There’s nothing to lose by calling our firm for advice. Schedule a meeting with our California wrongful death lawyers today.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not represent the current law in the recipient’s jurisdiction. The article should not be interpreted as professional legal advice from The May Firm or the individual author, nor is the information intended to substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. The article, nor any of the information included, should not be used to act or refrain from acting without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.