When a care provider’s mistake or oversight is so egregious it causes a patient’s death, their family has a reason to be upset—and a right to seek justice. Any death caused by someone else’s actions, willful or negligent, is considered a “wrongful death.” While nothing can make up for the tragedy that has occurred, the survivors of such a patient can likely file a lawsuit to hold the care provider accountable. Before deciding whether a wrongful death suit is proper, families should know the extent of the rights they have.
In a 2017 decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified that when someone who had a cause for action passes away, their right to seek recompense passes fully to their heir(s). Though our courts have long interpreted this right as part of the wrongful death process, the ruling helped denote where the privilege resides and who may benefit. In the “hybrid” suit the spouse (or other inheritor of the right of action) can file, they can face those responsible for their loved one’s death and receive answers as well as justice.
Why a Hybrid Suit?
Wrongful death law was enacted to protect the survivors and dependents of anyone who passed away due to someone else’s actions. It typically allows the direct relative(s) of the decedent to recover expenses including:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Loss of future income
- Loss of companionship
- Final medical bills of the deceased, if related to the cause of their death
These “pure” wrongful death cases, in other words, ensure a family is provided for should they lose a loved one. They do not seek any damages on behalf of the deceased.
With a hybrid claim, an heir(s) might also be able to seek damages for the suffering of the one they lost. Often, medical malpractice leads to great pain and hardship for the victim, and it may lead to additional treatment needs. When the beneficiary of a decedent brings a wrongful death claim, it is considered an extension to a personal injury suit (in this case, for medical malpractice) the victim had the right to file. Thus, Tennessee beneficiaries may also be able to receive, on the behalf of their loved one, damages for:
- Loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
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When Are These Claims Admissible?
Our Supreme Court’s decision makes it clear the heritability of a cause of action is tantamount—the harm done to the decedent must provide a reason for them to bring a suit. In cases of medical malpractice, that means you must be able to prove their treatment was not of the standard a doctor would be expected to provide. Negligent actions leading to this type of suit could include:
- Mismanagement of medication, including anesthesia
- Emergency room errors
- Delayed diagnosis
- Surgical error
If you are considering whether to bring such a suit, our attorneys can help you trace your loved one’s cause of death in reverse to determine what error(s) contributed and whether they constitute malpractice.
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Justice for Yourself and Your Loved One
Most states allow the heirs of an estate to bring legal actions of the behalf of a deceased party who was eligible to file for damages. This helps families receive justice in their loved one’s name, which may provide solace during a difficult time. However, these same families may choose not to bring a wrongful death suit. While some people cast this as a choice of respect, the fact is, families often need financial assistance to deal with the aftermath of an unexpected loss. Wrongful death suits help protect them as they move forward into a different world.
In a wrongful death, your loved one is not the only person who has been harmed. You have been robbed of the company of one of the most important people in your life. The law recognizes this; accordingly, the hybrid approach Tennessee takes to wrongful death cases asks negligent parties to answer for the damages caused to all parties.
Medical malpractice cases can be especially difficult to bear because a family saw their hopes taken away, rather than boosted, by a health provider. If you want to face those who caused your loved one’s death, you have the legal right to do so. We are here to offer the support you need as you pursue the justice you deserve.