You’ve Heard of Wrongful Death Lawsuits. What is a Wrongful Life Suit?

Sakkas Cahn & Weiss

You’ve Heard of Wrongful Death Lawsuits. What is a Wrongful Life Suit?

No, we’re not talking about the satirical TikTok by Kass Theaz (who was joking when she said she was suing her parents for having her without her consent).

When discussing a wrongful life suit, we discuss a lawsuit against a doctor or a hospital for failing to adhere to a patient’s end-of-life directive. Usually, the suit is launched by the executor or administrator of the patient’s estate.

The purpose is often to restore monies to the estate that would otherwise go to hospital bills and hold hospitals accountable for the pain and suffering they cause by ignoring end-of-life directives.

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For example, in one Georgia case, Doctors Hospital of Augusta v. Alicia, Jacqueline Alicea’s sued on behalf of her grandmother’s estate. The defendants intubated her grandmother and put her on a mechanical ventilator when she was terminal. She alleged this caused her grandmother unnecessary pain and suffering and was contrary to her advance directive for health care.

Her claims included breach of agreement, professional and ordinary negligence, medical battery, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty. Jacqueline Alicia successfully sued the hospital, obtaining a $1 million settlement for the estate.

A case here in New York involved Gerald and Elaine Greenberg. Gerald Greenberg suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital in Westchester failed to adhere to his end-of-life directives. They also disregarded a New York State MOLST (medical orders for life-sustaining treatment) form and Elaine Greenberg’s explicit instructions to a doctor. Instead of dying in roughly three days from sepsis, the patient endured pain and suffering over a period of approximately 30 days.

Initially, the courts dismissed the case. Earlier, New York “wrongful life” suits had been unsuccessful. In Greenberg, the court noted that the plaintiff sought damages for the decedent’s pain and suffering due to medical malpractice.

In Cronin v. Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, the earlier case, the plaintiff had trouble proving anything other than the fact that the resuscitation instructions were ignored. The plaintiff in Cronin failed to establish that an actual loss or injury had occurred.

When pressing any medical malpractice or personal injury lawsuit, injury lawyers must prove the following:

  • The defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff
  • The defendant failed in that duty of care
  • That failure resulted in a loss or injury

In the Cronin case, there was no pain, suffering, or injury.

The differences between the Cronin case and the Greenberg case certainly show how very small adjustments in the facts of a case can make a huge difference to the case outcome.

Issues with End of Life Directives

If you are concerned that medical establishments might ignore your end-of-life directive here in New York, it’s important to take several steps.

  • Work with an estate or elder care lawyer to put together your directive. They can help you avoid vague language that makes the directive unenforceable.
  • Use state MOLST or POLST forms to make decisions concrete.
  • Ensure your chosen representative can access your most up-to-date forms and easily access them.

Cynics may say that these forms are ignored to generate more income for the hospital. In reality, most doctors who ignore them aren’t bad people. They’re often hesitant to avoid prolonging life when they can. But if their actions result in pain and suffering, your estate may still have a malpractice case.

Plus, some cases involve dodgy actions by one entity or another. In one California case, someone filed a fraudulent doctor to remove a man’s wife from care decisions, ignored his directives, and prolonged his suffering for weeks until she could get it all straightened out.

Either way, the result is the same. The patient suffers, the estate loses money, and the survivors are harmed by their fight with the hospital to obtain compassionate care for their charges.

Pursuing a “Wrongful Life” Lawsuit

A wrongful life lawsuit is like any other medical malpractice lawsuit. You will need an experienced personal injury attorney to review your case and file a claim. Your attorney will likely hire expert witnesses to help provide medical evidence that the standard of care was not met, that the order was wrongfully ignored and that the patient suffered.

If your loved one has suffered due to an ignored end-of-life directive, contact us to look at the facts of your specific case. We’ll help you determine if a malpractice lawsuit would be appropriate and help you with your next steps.

See also:

Duty of Care is a Critical Element of Medical Malpractice Claims

When Medical Professionals Breach the Accepted Standard of Care

Proactive Measures You Can Take to Prevent Medical Errors

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