Wrongful Death

See Also:
- Stillbirth

A death of someone close to you is always devastating – but that death can be particularly difficult to cope with when it came too soon because of somebody else’s careless behavior. Sadly, wrongful death can arise in most of the areas that Patrick Malone and Associates practices in – from traffic accidents to defective products to negligence by doctors and hospitals.

Pursuing a claim of wrongful death serves two purposes. First, it can help those that survive the victim get their lives back on track. The damages paid are intended to keep a family that has lost one of its members financially above water. The process of speaking up about what happened to a loved one can also provide some measure of “closure” (although no one ever fully recovers from losing a loved one due to someone else’s careless or negligent behavior). Second, when individuals tell insurance companies, corporations, or other individuals that what happened to their love one was not okay, they can help pay it forward – and get corrective action done to prevent the same outcome for a different family.

In cases of a wrongful death, particularly those involving medical malpractice, families can be faced with a couple of unique situations. Two of the most important are the question of whether or not to have an autopsy performed, and how to cope with the psychological damage left in the wake of an unexpected death. For more information on these issues please keep reading.

Autopsies and wrongful death malpractice lawsuits

One question many families raise after a sudden death of a loved one: Should we get an autopsy?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But here are a few points to consider:

  • If the death occurred outside a health care institution, the law of your jurisdiction likely will require the medical examiner (who should be a trained pathologist M.D.) to conduct an autopsy.
  • If the death occurred inside a hospital or other health care facility, the law may or may not require an autopsy, depending on how soon death occurred after the patient was admitted.
  • If no autopsy is required, the family may still request an autopsy, and the hospital is required to honor this request. However, the hospital is usually not obligated to provide the autopsy free of charge. Sometimes the family has to pay for it.
  • If the family is suspicious of the institution where death occurred, you can obtain an independent autopsy. A number of forensic pathologists around the country offer this service. (You can find them with an Internet search for the term “independent autopsy.”) It usually costs a few thousand dollars.
  • Do not expect the autopsy to always give a definitive answer. Especially if the patient lingered alive for days or weeks after a fatal injury before finally succumbing, the pathological process that led to the injury might be obscured.
  • If the body has already been embalmed or even buried, it’s not necessarily too late for an autopsy. The embalming process preserves most body structures reasonably well for a few months. But doing a late autopsy can be an upsetting process for the family and should be done only after full discussion.

The Unique Injuries to the Family Caused by Wrongful Death of a Loved One

Death due to negligence or malpractice is different from an ordinary death. Families who have lost a loved one from someone else’s wrongful conduct or neglect will experience emotions that don’t necessarily happen when a loved one dies of natural causes.

It can be especially hard to lose a beloved family member to medical malpractice because of the position of trust that the doctors and nurses had, and because of the feelings of betrayal that families understandably experience.

Psychologists talk about families losing something called their “assumptive world.” The assumptive world as defined by Psychologist Jeffrey Kauffman “refers to the assumptions and beliefs that ground, secure or orient people, which give a sense of reality, meaning and purpose in life.” The loss of one’s assumptive world violates core assumptions concerning:

  1. Self-trust. The assumption that most of the time I can cope with what happens to me.
  2. Other-trust. The assumptions that when necessary I can count on others to keep me safe.
  3. World-trust. The assumption that the world is a safe place to live. World-trust also includes the protective powers of God, laws, the courts, government, etc. Loss of this trust leads to anger toward the supposed cause and distrust of the power and or goodwill of authorities.

The grief process is especially difficulty when death was sudden and without warning and preventable. Therapists see these kinds of issues for family members:

  • Sudden death leaves the survivor with a sense of unreality. “This can’t be happening to me” or “There has been a mistake;”
  • A strong sense of guilt on the part of the survivors that they were not able to foresee or prevent the death;
  • A strong desire to determine what went wrong;
  • Frustrations or feelings of inadequacy dealing with complicated issues arising from interaction with medical and legal authorities;
  • Sudden death elicits a sense of helplessness and that can lead to anger, depression and other difficult emotions.
  • Survivors of sudden deaths live with high levels of agitation as answers become difficult to obtain or unsatisfactory;
  • Sudden death leaves the bereaved with remorse and regrets for things not said or activities not done.
  • Reliving of the acute events of death and review of how the outcome might have been otherwise.

Our law firm always recommends that families think about these issues early in the process, and we also find that it can help to get counseling from a good sympathetic therapist, particularly from one who is knowledgeable about the grief issues unique to wrongful death.

Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney

If you believe you or a family member has been seriously injured from medical malpractice, medical error, or neglect by a doctor, hospital, nurse, clinic, nursing home or other health care provider, you may want to click here to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney for a free evaluation of your case. You can also email us at info@patrickmalonelaw.com or call us at 202-742-1500 or 888-625-6635 toll-free. We will respond within 24 hours. There is no charge for our initial consultation.