When someone dies due to the wrongful conduct or wrongful inaction of others, especially when those actors are medical care providers, the law potentially creates two different types of legal claims: wrongful death and something called “survival.” The wrongful death action, as the name implies, compensates the plaintiff for the premature ending of the deceased person’s life. A survival claim focuses on the conscious pain and suffering the deceased endured in the hours and moments preceding their death. If you’ve lost a loved one due to the errors or omissions made by others, you may have a case for wrongful death, for survival, or for both causes of action. An experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney can help you assess your case.
Any time you lose a loved one due to the mistakes or wrongful inaction of another party, it is excruciatingly painful. That pain is even worse if those responsible were medical care providers. The case surrounding the death of a hospital patient in suburban Philadelphia in 2008 was an example of that. In late November and early December 2008, Marvin was a patient in the ICU. Doctors ordered a feeding tube inserted into Marvin. The first attempt resulted in an improper insertion. The second attempt resulted in the same problem. The tube was inserted into the patient’s lung, rather than his stomach.
Another doctor made a third attempt in the late afternoon of the following day. A radiologist reviewed an x-ray and wrongfully read it as showing the tube ending in the man’s stomach, when it actually terminated in his left lung (again). For eight hours, from 11 pm to 7 am, Marvin received 50 cc’s of nutrition and 420 cc’s of flush through that tube. As the patient got worse, another x-ray was ordered a little before 5 am. The results (showing the tube’s incorrect placement) were not reviewed until 8:13 that morning. Marvin, tragically, had been dead for more than an hour by that time.
In a case like this, in which the deceased was elderly and in poor health prior to the acts of negligence that led to his death, the defense may try to use these facts to argue for only a small award of damages. As the plaintiff, it is important to present proof that counters this and instead focuses on the harm suffered. In this case, that meant, within the survival action, offering evidence of the painful and horrific way that Marvin deteriorated and declined toward death as he drowned in the fluids that the feeding tube was pumping into him.
Marvin’s family received a total award of $5 million for the wrongful death and survival claims. Additionally, the court awarded the family something called “delay damages.” In order to encourage early settlements, the rules in Pennsylvania allow successful plaintiffs in wrongful death cases to recover a sum of damages based on the period of time that elapsed from the time they filed their lawsuit until the date of the resolution of the case. In Marvin’s family’s case, those delay damages amounted to an extra $947,000.
The defendants appealed, but they lost. One of the arguments the defense advanced was that the family’s expert radiologist was not qualified to opine about the conduct of the x-ray technologist because he wasn’t an x-ray technologist. This argument did not succeed in blocking the expert’s testimony. In Pennsylvania, medical experts can testify if they have sufficient knowledge, training, and experience in a related field, which the radiologist had in this case.
If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, reach out to the diligent and compassionate wrongful death attorneys at Needle Law Firm. Our team can offer you the determined and knowledgeable help you need at this most difficult time. We have been providing personalized attention to our clients for many years and are here to discuss your matter with you.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling (570) 344-1266.
More blog posts:
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania?, Pennsylvania Accident Lawyer Blog, October 28, 2016
Pennsylvania Court Upholds Vicarious Liability and Corporate Negligence Claims in Wrongful Death Case, Pennsylvania Accident Lawyer Blog, October 17, 2015