Wrongful death. The very words are terrifying, describing a tragic passing that, in all likelihood, could have been prevented. As any wrongful death attorney in NJ can tell you, there is nothing that can soften the blow of an unexpected and sudden death of a loved one, especially if it was possibly caused by the action of a doctor, other health care professional or care facility or, in the alternative, a failure by one of those parties to act.
What is wrongful death?
Wrongful death caused by a healthcare professional or facility may, based on the facts, constitute a form of medical malpractice. In order to prove medical malpractice, a plaintiff must provide evidence and testimony that establishes:
The health care professional owed the patient a certain standard of care which he or she then failed to provide. The standard of care normally expected is one that a competent doctor would employ under the same or similar circumstances. If such a doctor would not have made the same mistake, then medical malpractice may have occurred through professional negligence.
The wrongful death would not have occurred but for the negligence.
The final element of proving professional negligence, which constitutes medical malpractice, is that the harm done must have serious consequences. Sadly, that goes without saying when a wrongful death occurs.
But how do you know when it may be time to hire a wrongful death attorney in NJ?
How can you tell if a healthcare professional was negligent?
What are some of the signs that the death of your loved one might have been preventable? The following are some examples of factors that may indicate you should seek legal advice.
Death appears to have been the direct result of surgery, medication or some other form of treatment.
There are no guarantees in health care. No doctor is perfect and sometimes things just happen. Having said that, a wrongful death attorney in NJ can help you to determine whether the treatment or care was at least partially responsible for the patient’s death.
If a loved one undergoes a procedure to address a non life-threatening condition but doesn’t survive, that may be a sign that negligence occurred during the operation.
Unless included in the normal disclaimers about potential side effects, death was not considered a possible outcome of the procedure, medication or other treatment.
Even if death was a possible “side effect” (such as is often the case with the use of general anesthesia, for example), that will likely not be a sufficient defense if the doctor was negligent. The risks associated with anesthesia may be high, but administering too much would help a wrongful death attorney in NJ prove medical malpractice.
You are told very little about the cause of death or, for that matter, anything related to the care or treatment leading up to the time of death.
If, for example, the patient died during or soon after surgery, the hospital and most definitely the surgeon would be hesitant to share any details until they were certain of the cause of death. In fact, if a mistake was made during the operation, you will receive virtually no information at all.
Instead, the hospital, doctor and/or anesthesiologist would contact their malpractice insurance carrier immediately to trigger the protection of the insurance policy.
It would be difficult to get any information from the health care providers if wrongful death occurred as a result of some prescription error or because the medication was negligently administered.
Often, only an autopsy can detect whether the deceased was prescribed the wrong medication or given a fatal dosage. This doesn’t happen only due to prescriptions purchased at a pharmacy.
The staff of hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities are sometimes deemed to have been responsible for such medication errors.
For that reason, if you suspect the cause of death was due to a prescription error or because a mistake was made in administering medication, you should seek the advice of a wrongful death attorney in NJ immediately.
In short, it is never a good sign if you are being stonewalled.
Death was sudden and very unexpected, especially if the injury, illness or condition being treated was not life-threatening.
For example, a young person who goes in for surgery on knee ligaments is highly unlikely to suffer a catastrophic result from such an operation. Keep in mind, however, that the patient’s age and overall health are considered factors as well. A 75-year-old man undergoing hip replacement surgery is certainly at greater risk for a negative outcome than a younger knee surgery patient.
The patient’s family is requested to sign forms releasing the health care professional and/or facility from all liability associated with the death of the patient.
As well, any efforts by the insurance carrier of the doctor, nurse, hospital, care facility, etc. to resolve the matter quickly should be cause for alarm.
An involved party admits that a mistake was made.
Although rare, this does happen. A doctor may disclose that something went wrong during an operation or an administrator may admit that your loved one was given too much or too little medication. No matter the details, if a party involved with the care of the patient admits responsibility, it is imperative that you seek out a wrongful death attorney in NJ as soon as possible to protect the rights of the estate of the deceased.
An acknowledgment of responsibility may actually be somewhat helpful, however. It almost surely means that the matter has been turned over to the provider’s insurance carrier who will serve as a point of contact and may be motivated to settle your claim as quickly as possible (unless, of course, the insurer is of the opinion that your claim is without merit).
An admission of responsibility may also reduce the need to “prove your case” that someone was negligent.
Why experience with wrongful death cases is important.
A competent and successful wrongful death attorney in NJ will be invaluable during settlement discussions. Knowledge of the law, a keen awareness of the way insurance companies work, familiarity with medical information and terminology and the ability to call on medical experts to review your case and provide supporting evidence are all reasons why you should choose Fontanella, Benevento, Galluccio & Smith as a wrongful death attorney in NJ.