Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Lewis v. BHS College Meadows, No. 03-4184, 2004 WL 870818 (D. Kan. Apr. 21, 2004).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can a wrongful death claim and a medical malpractice claim be brought together?
This case dealt with an oddity concerning two very related claims. Id. at *1. These claims—one for medical malpractice and one for wrongful death—arose out of the same inadequate medical care Mr. Lewis received. Id. However, Plaintiff could not bring both of these claims, based solely on who she was. Id. at *4. Because Plaintiff was Mr. Lewis’ daughter, but not the executor of his estate, she could bring a wrongful death action under Kansas law, but not a medical malpractice action that Mr. Lewis could have brought during his life. Id.
This case arises from inadequate medical treatment Mr. Lewis received from Defendant. Id. at *1. This inadequate treatment caused great pain to Mr. Lewis before ultimately causing his death. Id. Plaintiff is Mr. Lewis’ daughter, but not the executor of his estate. Id. at *4. She filed suit alleging two counts against Defendant: medical malpractice, a claim that Mr. Lewis could have brought during his lifetime, and wrongful death, a claim that belongs to relatives of Mr. Lewis after his wrongful death. Id. at *1. Defendant sought to have the medical malpractice claim dismissed because Plaintiff could not bring the suit on behalf of Mr. Lewis, and to have the wrongful death claim dismissed because the case had been wrongfully filed in federal (rather than state) court. Id.
Under Kansas law, when a plaintiff dies, his or her estate may bring any claim that the deceased could have brought during life—known as a survival action. Id. at *4. This right is granted by Section 60-1801, and only allows a survival action to be brought by the estate, not an heir. Id. In contrast, a wrongful death action isn’t a claim of redress for the decedent, but instead a redress for the wrongful death of a loved one, belonging to the decedent’s heirs-at-law. Id.
In this case, Plaintiff was Mr. Lewis’ heir-at-law (his daughter). Id. But, Plaintiff was not the executor of Mr. Lewis’ estate. Id. Without this status, Plaintiff lacked “standing” to bring the medical malpractice suit. Id. Standing is simply a legal term for being a proper person under the proper circumstances to bring a claim. Id. Thus, Plaintiff’s claim for medical malpractice must be dismissed. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff’s claim for wrongful death was dismissed because it should have been brought in state, rather than federal, court. Id. at *5.