Skip to main content
Medical Malpractice

The Difference Between Wrongful Death vs. Medical Malpractice

Although circumstances involving medical malpractice or medical negligence can appear very similar, each has major implications for those filing a claim. The standards of evidence between the two are different but can involve similar sets of facts. Determining whether one or the other occurred is central to building your case and the types of damages you can receive if you successfully prove a medical provider is responsible for causing you lasting harm.

Medical malpractice involves the failure of a health provider to deliver an appropriate standard of care, resulting in patient injury or death. Wrongful death occurs when a person’s neglect or unlawful acts cause another’s death. When a medical practitioner commits negligent acts that result in a patient’s death, the practitioner can be held responsible for wrongful death as the result of their medical malpractice. Experienced personal injury lawyers specializing in medical malpractice and medical negligence can determine which you should file for and how to build a successful case. The following overview of the similarities and differences of each can help determine what steps to take next.

What is negligence?

In British Columbia, negligence is broadly defined as recklessly or carelessly causing harm to another person. A medical provider is negligent when they fail to provide appropriate treatment, make a medical error or omission, or provide treatment that does not meet established standards of care, resulting in injury. In cases of wrongful death, a person’s negligence caused an accident that resulted in someone’s death.

Establishing Medical Malpractice

The types of medical mistakes medical practitioners can be held legally liable for usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • The practitioner was not granted permission by the patient before conducting a harmful procedure. Receiving permission is called “informed consent.”
  • The patient was improperly treated or diagnosed.
  • There was a “failure to treat.” Failure to treat occurs when a healthcare professional doesn’t take the necessary steps to treat a patient in a timely manner.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

In order to prove medical malpractice one must show that a medical provider failed to provide an acceptable standard of care under the circumstances. Proving medical malpractice involves establishing that:

  • The practitioner had a duty of care to the patient.
  • This duty of care was breached.
  • Accepted standards of care were ignored.
  • The medical error or omission committed was avoidable.
  • The provider’s action, or inaction, is considered negligent.
  • Substantial injury was caused by their negligence.

Establishing Wrongful Death

The core component of a wrongful death suit involves proving that the offending party or parties were intentionally or accidentally negligent. Claims should establish that the deceased individual did not contribute to the fatal incident in a way that lessens or mitigates the offending individual’s misconduct.

No common law standards exist for wrongful death compensation in British Columbia. Instead, the Family Compensation Act dictates what circumstances warrant a wrongful death claim and sets standards for victims’ damages. A wrongful death lawyer can help you determine whether you have a case and are owed damages.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims should include the following evidence:

  • Proof that the death was caused by the offending individual’s recklessness, carelessness, or negligence.
  • The defendant owed a duty to the victim, and that duty was violated or ignored.
  • The defendant willfully or recklessly breached their duty in a way that resulted in death.
  • Quantifiable damage was done to the deceased’s loved ones in the form of internment costs, loss of financial support, loss of potential income, lost inheritance, or loss of guidance, care, and companionship.

What’s the difference between medical malpractice and wrongful death?

The difference between medical malpractice and wrongful death starts with the person accused of negligence. In medical malpractice cases, civil action holds physicians and other healthcare providers accountable for medical negligence.

It is possible that an incident in a medical setting could meet the legal criteria for both medical malpractice and wrongful death. Negligent medical practitioners form the backbone of medical malpractice cases by committing medical errors or showing poor medical judgment. When a patient does not survive a practitioner’s medical malpractice, it can be considered a wrongful death.

Wrongful death due to medical negligence is one possible outcome of medical malpractice. To prove wrongful death is the result of medical malpractice, the evidence must show that the resulting death could have been avoided. Medical malpractice is just one cause of wrongful death. Other common causes include car accidents, dangerous premises, and unsafe working conditions.

In most cases, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims have a two-year statute of limitations. This means that you must file your case in BC courts within two years of an incident of medical malpractice or wrongful death. It can take time to prove that the injury or death was avoidable and the result of medical provider negligence. It is important to act quickly to contact a lawyer experienced in medical malpractice or wrongful death cases.