A family's grief in a D.C. wrongful death case

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Posted on Nov 15, 2014

One of the most profound harms in a wrongful death case - where negligence or medical malpractice caused a person's death - is the grief and loss that the family suffers.  Many times, the person was otherwise healthy and his or her life was cut short unexpectedly.  And the family is left with a sudden, unexpected loss.

But in the legal case against the wrongdoer - for example, the hospital that caused the person's death - the family's grief is not recognized as damages by the D.C. courts.

Why is that?

The D.C. Council writes the law in the District.  It decided long ago that families trying to hold a hospital or other wrongdoer accountable for causing a person's death wouldn't have to pay the surviving spuse or children for their grief and loss.

If someone dies after medical malpractice or other negligence in D.C., what types of damages can the family expect to recover when they hold the hospital responsible for the death of their loved one?

If the deceased left minor children, they can usually recover for the loss of the guidance, attention and other the parent provided.  In a survival action, which is similar and usually combined, they can recover (through the estate) for the lost income their parent would have provided.

There are other damages - the deceased's pain and suffering and last medical expenses caused by the malpractice, for example.

But no grief.  Hard to understand a law like this.

Even with this restriction on damages, we've been able to help a number of families with a wrongful death case that provided the money needed to keep going - to keep the house, retire, send the kids to school.

If you're dealing with the loss of a loved one after malpractice or negligence and want to hold the wrongdoer accountable for what happened, call us at (202) 393 - 3320.  But don't wait.  These cases have time limits, notice requirements and take time to investigate and develop.

Frank R. Kearney, Attorney-at-Law
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