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What is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice?


One of the most common questions individuals ask Miami medical malpractice attorneys involves the distinction between med mal claims and wrongful death. Some of the confusion probably lies in the fact that the two legal concepts are closely related. When a health care provider engages in medical negligence as defined by Florida law, the mistake could lead to a fatality and potential wrongful death case. However, a patient who suffers non-fatal harm may still have rights in a medical malpractice claim.

Because of the confusion, many people do not realize that they have legal remedies – while some others might mistakenly believe they do have a cause of action. To clarify the confusion regarding medical malpractice and wrongful death, it is important to get a description of each.

Overview of Medical Malpractice Claims: Health care providers can be held accountable for negligence when decision-making or treatment departs from what is generally accepted in the medical field. In other words, if a doctor deviates from what another physician in the same practice area or specialty would have done – under the same or similar circumstances – he or she may be liable in a med mal claim. Some of the most common bases for medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to timely diagnose;
  • Surgical errors;
  • Prescription mistakes;
  • Birth injuries; and
  • Many others.

In cases where the patient was injured, the remedy is filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. As the person who was harmed, you are the plaintiff that seeks compensation for your losses. If successful, you may be able to recover damages for your medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. When the patient dies because of med mal, the legal process and recoverable damages are slightly different.

How Wrongful Death Cases Work in Florida: As a subset of personal injury claims, wrongful death laws cover a wide range of negligent conduct that result in an individual’s death. That negligence may involve unsafe driving that leads to a car accident or allowing dangerous conditions to exist on property – or it may be a fatal error by a health care provider. When any of the items listed above or other careless acts lead to a patient’s death, the legal remedy is a medical malpractice case.

However, the primary difference between a med mal injury and fatality is who acts as plaintiff. In a wrongful death case, it is the surviving family members and the decedent’s estate who are the victims. In order to file a lawsuit, there must be a Personal Representative, appointed by a probate court, who then acts as the representative of the estate and all the survivors for purposes of the litigation.  Because the survivors and the estate suffer losses when their loved one dies, compensation is directed at these survivors and the estate. Monetary damages in a wrongful death claim are associated with such losses as love, support, guidance, education, financial contributions, funeral expenses, and others.

Contact a Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer for More Information

This clarification regarding medical malpractice and wrongful death cases may help you understand the basics, but it is important to discuss your circumstances with an experienced attorney to ensure protection of your legal rights. Our team at Freidin Brown, P.A. can explain the legal concepts after reviewing your circumstances, so please contact us to schedule a no-cost case evaluation. We can meet with you via videoconference or at our offices in Miami or Fort Myers, FL to discuss strategies and next steps.


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