In the unfortunate event of a loved one’s death, the surviving family members may be left grappling with grief and anguish. When the death occurs due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, two legal avenues to seek compensation may arise: wrongful death claims and medical malpractice lawsuits. 

Although both involve a deceased person, they are distinct legal concepts, each with its own set of criteria, processes, and implications. This article aims to clarify the differences between wrongful death cases and medical malpractice cases, shedding light on the complexities of these legal matters.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death refers to a legal claim brought against a party whose negligent or intentional actions led to someone’s death. It is a civil lawsuit, typically filed by the surviving family members or the estate of the deceased. The primary goal of a wrongful death claim is to seek compensation for the financial and emotional losses suffered by the surviving family members as a result of the wrongful death.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim

To establish a successful wrongful death claim, certain key elements must be proven:

  • Duty of Care: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person. This duty could arise from various relationships, such as employer-employee, doctor-patient, or driver-passenger.
  • Breach of Duty: The plaintiff needs to show that the defendant breached their duty of care through negligent or intentional actions.
  • Causation: There must be a direct link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the death of the individual. The plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the death.
  • Damages: The surviving family members must have suffered financial and emotional losses as a result of the death. These damages can include medical expenses, funeral costs, lost income, and emotional pain and suffering.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Medical malpractice refers to the failure of a healthcare professional to meet the accepted standard of care, resulting in harm, injury, or death to a patient. Unlike wrongful death claims, medical malpractice lawsuits focus specifically on cases involving healthcare providers and the standard of care they should have provided.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

To establish a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, the following elements need to be proven:

  • Doctor-Patient Relationship: The plaintiff must demonstrate that there was a doctor-patient relationship, indicating that the healthcare professional had a duty of care toward the patient.
  • Breach of Standard of Care: The plaintiff needs to prove that the healthcare provider breached the accepted standard of care. This involves comparing the actions of the defendant to what other competent healthcare providers would have done under similar circumstances.
  • Causation: The plaintiff must establish a direct link between the healthcare provider’s breach of the standard of care and the patient’s injuries or death.
  • Damages: Similar to wrongful death claims, the plaintiff needs to show that the patient suffered harm, injuries, or death, leading to financial and emotional losses.

Differentiating Wrongful Death from Medical Malpractice

While wrongful death claims and medical malpractice lawsuits may seem similar due to their association with death and negligence, they have key distinctions that set them apart:

Nature of Defendants: In wrongful death claims, the defendants can be individuals, companies, or entities whose actions or negligence led to the death. This can include drivers in car accidents, product manufacturers, or property owners, among others.

On the other hand, medical malpractice lawsuits specifically target healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, surgeons, and hospitals, alleging that their actions or omissions resulted in the patient’s harm or death.

Focus of Allegations: Wrongful death claims center on proving that the defendant’s actions, whether intentional or negligent, directly caused the death of the individual.

In medical malpractice lawsuits, the focus is on whether the healthcare provider failed to provide the expected standard of care, leading to harm, injury, or the death of the patient.

Standard of Care: In wrongful death claims, the standard of care is more general and relates to the duty of care owed in various contexts, such as driving safely or maintaining safe premises.

Medical malpractice lawsuits, however, revolve around the medical standard of care, which pertains to the level of skill, knowledge, and care that a competent healthcare professional in the same specialty would provide in similar circumstances.

Expert Testimony: Medical malpractice cases often require expert medical testimony to determine whether the defendant’s actions deviated from the standard of care. Wrongful death claims may not always necessitate such specialized testimony, depending on the circumstances of the case.

The Role of a Wrongful Death Lawyer

Navigating the legal complexities of wrongful death claims and medical malpractice lawsuits can be overwhelming for grieving family members. Engaging the services of an experienced wrongful death lawyer is crucial to ensure that their rights are protected and that they receive the compensation they deserve.

A wrongful death lawyer possesses the legal knowledge and expertise to:

  • Investigate the Case: Conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence, interview witnesses, and reconstruct the events leading to the death.
  • Determine Liability: Identify the party or parties responsible for the death and build a strong case against them.
  • Establish Damages: Calculate the financial and emotional losses suffered by the surviving family members to pursue appropriate compensation.
  • Negotiate Settlements: Skillfully negotiate with insurance companies or opposing parties to reach a fair settlement out of court.
  • Represent in Court: If necessary, present the case in court and advocate on behalf of the surviving family members to seek justice and compensation.


Wrongful death claims and medical malpractice lawsuits are distinct legal avenues pursued when negligence or wrongful actions result in someone’s death. Understanding the differences between these legal concepts is essential for surviving family members seeking justice and compensation for their losses. 

If you find yourself in such a tragic situation, consulting a wrongful death lawyer can provide the guidance and support you need to navigate these complex legal proceedings and protect your rights during this difficult time. 

Swartz & Swartz has established a legacy of excellence in providing top-notch legal representation to clients seeking justice in wrongful death and medical malpractice cases. With a team of highly skilled and compassionate attorneys, Swartz & Swartz has earned a reputation for fiercely advocating for the rights of surviving family members and individuals affected by negligence. Our firm’s unwavering commitment to delivering favorable outcomes and securing fair compensation for our clients has garnered the trust and respect of the local community and legal professionals alike. So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch with our team to get the help you need now!

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If you or someone you know, needs help from a lawyer, contact the law offices of Swartz & Swartz, use our live chat, or send us a message using the form below and we’ll get in touch to assess your case and how we can help.

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About the Author: James Swartz
Mr. Swartz, our Managing and Principal Attorney at Swartz & Swartz P.C., is a nationally recognized and respected trial attorney as well as consumer advocate. His practice focuses on cases involving negligence, torts, products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other claims involving catastrophic injuries.

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