Do Hospitals Pay Wrongful Death Claims Out of Court?

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney

Every year hundreds of thousands of people die because of medical mistakes. Depending on which study you read, anywhere between 250,000 and 440,000 people die every year due to an error made by a health care provider. Many of these wrongful deaths occur in New York City hospitals during both inpatient and outpatient treatments.

Some of these cases will go to trial, but many more wrongful death claims against hospitals are settled out of court before a trial commences.

Has Your Family Experienced a Wrongful Death in a Hospital? Raphaelson & Levine Can Help

At our law firm, we understand the pain and agony people experience when they lose a loved one, especially when the death could have been prevented. The loss victims suffer is immeasurable and we believe victims should have a voice for the wrongs they’ve suffered.

At Raphaelson & Levine, our sympathetic lawyers are here to guide New York families through this very difficult time. To learn more about legal options after this kind of a tragedy occurs, contact the wrongful death attorneys at Raphaelson & Levine at 212-268-3222.

What is a Hospital Wrongful Death Claim?

When a loved one dies due to the negligence of a health care provider, the family of the victim can legally pursue justice for their loss. In the State of New York, the law requires proof of five elements to establish a wrongful death claim.

  • A death has occurred
  • Death was caused by wrongful or negligent conduct by the defendant
  • Giving rise to a cause of action the deceased could have pursued in court had their death not occurred
  • One or more persons suffered a loss as a result of the death of the victim
  • Damages the victim’s estate can recover

Unfortunately, medical mistakes are more common than they should be. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer in the United States.

Medical mistakes are often attributed to inadequately skilled or trained staff, understaffed facilities, caregiver judgment errors, mistakes made during the course of treatment (incorrect dose, wrong medication, undiagnosed surgical complications, anesthesia mistakes, or other grave errors), or a system problem in a software program, hardware failure, or another type of system defect.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against a Hospital?

Under New York State law, survivors of the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit against a hospital, however, the person filing must be the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. This individual can file on behalf of the person’s surviving family members or beneficiaries who are eligible to recover compensatory damages, but family members cannot file a claim themselves.

Beneficiaries can only recover economic losses they suffer as a result of the hospital’s negligence or reckless behavior. New York State law doesn’t permit families and other loved ones to recover losses due to pain and suffering in this type of circumstance.  

What is the Basis for a Wrongful Death Claim Against a Hospital?

A wrongful death claim against a hospital can include sought justice for lost earnings and benefits, loss of support, medical bills and other expenses, loss of inheritance, and funeral and burial costs. While emotional suffering is not allowed under NYS law, a claim can place a value on the loss of parental guidance, parental nurturing, and care to surviving children.

Usually, if damages are awarded in a hospital wrongful death lawsuit, the monies are distributed to the decedent’s spouse and children. In some cases, others who might have been financially dependent on the decedent for support (i.e. parents or adult children) can be eligible for recovery. In some instances, a court of law will impose punitive damages on a hospital as a punishment for its negligence that resulted in tragedy.

Are there Statutes of Limitations in New York State?

New York State law does dictate the family members and/or personal representative must file within two years of the date of their loved one’s date of death since there is a two-year statute of limitations to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Any cases filed beyond this time limit will not be allowed.

Do Hospitals Pay Wrongful Death Claims Out of Court?

Like many other personal injury claims, wrongful death cases can be settled out of court. Many hospitals can and do settle cases related to medical malpractice before ever stepping foot into a courtroom. Statistics shared by the American Judges Association tell us 84% of pending tort cases settle in the pre-trial period. This would include those claims brought against hospitals.

What are the Benefits of Settling Out of Court?

People who have suffered the loss of a person they care about due to a hospital’s carelessness should speak to an experienced attorney who can evaluate their options. The best option may be to avoid a court trial and seek a wrongful death action settlement instead. Many survivors prefer to settle out of court for different reasons.

  • Avoid an expensive and time-consuming trial. Trials require attorneys, expert witnesses, exhibits, court costs, depositions, and a lot of time. Out of court settlements can be negotiated with fewer complications or other factors trials require and can be done far more quickly.
  • Limit stress. Trials are very stressful because they are time-consuming and many survivors find it difficult to go through the process for many reasons. One being they have to relive the pain of hearing about the details associated with their family member's death.
  • Maintain privacy. Court settlements can be kept private, but claims against hospitals that go to trial are all on public record which means anyone can read the details associated with the case. Many people prefer to keep their family member's experience more private. An attorney can also work a confidentiality clause into a settlement agreement.
  • Liability factors. Hospitals don’t want it on public record they were found guilty of negligence. As a result, many will prefer out of court settlements to keep bad publicity down.
  • Appeals process. A settlement is a final decision and settles the case. If a hospital loses a trial, they have the right to appeal and many will do so. This means the case can go on for a very prolonged period of time.
  • Uncertainty of a jury. Court trials rely on the decision of a jury. This can work in the favor of a decedent’s survivors, but other times it won’t. A settlement negotiated outside the scope of a trial can provide certainty over how much the hospital will pay for its negligence.

A wrongful death attorney is skilled at negotiation and generally knows when hospitals will make lower offers and can determine if the case should go to trial. Victims who turn to attorneys for legal advice will find their legal representation are able to negotiate better offers than the first or even second offers.

Ralphaelson & Levine Law Firm is the Voice of New York’s Injured

Since 1992, the dedicated attorneys at the Raphaelson & Levine law firm have worked to ensure victims of hospital negligence have the best possible chances of success. Money can never replace the loss of a cherished family member but a wrongful death lawsuit means the family can receive justice and closure. It also makes facilities and providers held accountable for their negligence, and this can save future lives.

We understand losing a loved one is a painful experience and our lawyers will handle your case with the utmost sensitivity. Our law office serves all five New York City boroughs, Long Island, Rockland County, Westchester County, and surrounding counties and cities.

To obtain a free consultation, call our law office at 212-268-3222.

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney
Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, NY. With over thirty years of experience as a personal injury lawyer, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine).

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