What’s the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice?

Tragedies occur regularly throughout Tennessee. It is not uncommon for the careless or negligent actions of others to cause severe injuries or even fatalities. We are often asked the difference between wrongful death claims and medical malpractice lawsuits. Here, we want to discuss these two legal actions. We examine how medical malpractice claims arise and look at how medical mistakes can lead to wrongful death. We will also see that there are many other ways that wrongful death claims arise in Tennessee.

What is Wrongful Death in Tennessee?

When we look directly at Tennessee law, we can see that a wrongful death lawsuit can arise anytime a person dies from “injuries received from another” or “by the wrongful act, omission, or killing by another” in which a person would have been able to file a personal injury lawsuit had they survived (Tenn. Code § 20-5-106 (2021).).

Wrongful death claims in Tennessee are treated as a special type of personal injury claim, but where the injured individual is no longer able to file the claim on their own in court. The right to file these lawsuits passes on to certain family members. Wrongful death cases can arise in various ways in this state, including:

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Commercial truck accidents
  • Premises liability incidents
  • Faulty product incidents
  • Defective pharmaceuticals
  • Medical malpractice claims
  • …and more

Can Medical Malpractice Lead to Wrongful Death?

Medical malpractice cases arise anytime the careless or negligent actions of medical professional cause harm or death to a patient. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, we can see that preventable medical errors are actually the third leading cause of death in this country.

Preventable medical errors can occur in a wide variety of ways, including the following:

  • Failure to diagnose a patient
  • Missed diagnosis
  • Delayed treatment
  • Birth injuries
  • Prescribing the wrong medication
  • Giving the wrong dosage of a medication
  • Surgical mistakes
  • Anesthesia mistakes
  • Hospital-acquired infections
  • Defective medical devices

If a medical error is severe enough and causes the death of a patient, medical malpractice claims can become wrongful death claims in Tennessee.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Tennessee?

Tennessee law only allows certain family members to file wrongful death claims in civil court. The first person who has the right to file these claims is the surviving spouse of the deceased. If there is no surviving spouse, other parties are allowed to file these lawsuits, in the following order:

  • Children of the deceased
  • Surviving next of kin
  • The personal representative or administrator of the deceased’s estate
  • Surviving parents of the deceased if the deceased was dependent on their parents at the time of death

The wrongful death statute of limitations in Tennessee is one year from the date of death. If a case is not filed within this one-year timeframe, surviving family members will likely not be able to recover the compensation they are entitled to.

Working With an Attorney

If you or somebody you care about has lost someone that you love as a result of the careless or negligent actions of another individual or entity in Tennessee, speak to a wrongful death attorney in Nashville immediately. Regardless of whether or not your claim revolves around medical malpractice or something else, you need to let an attorney conduct a complete investigation into the incident.