Top Causes of Fatal Medical Errors

Doctor writing word Medical Error with marker

There are many potential causes of fatal medical errors that medical professionals may be liable for, including everything from medication errors and misdiagnoses to communication problems and poor information flow. If you believe a doctor or another medical professional’s negligence led to a fatal medical error, it’s best to understand the potential causes of medical mistakes and how to file a wrongful death claim in these instances.

Medical Errors That Lead to Death

There are several types of medical errors that can lead to a patient’s death. The following are some of the most common medical errors that take place.


Patients may see a doctor to determine the specific cause of certain symptoms. In some cases, patients may receive a misdiagnosis that can put them at serious risk. If the patient has a serious condition that a doctor fails to diagnose for any reason, this could lead to inadequate or incorrect treatment that could lead to the patient’s death.


Medical professionals must do what they can to prevent potential infections that patients may develop while hospitalized. However, infections may develop, leading to potentially fatal conditions such as sepsis.

Communication Problems

Fatal medical mistakes may also result from different types of communication issues. Doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and others may not communicate properly, or they may not have the right information.

Medication Errors

Medical staff may also make certain types of medication errors, including providing or prescribing the wrong dose and neglecting to prescribe the right medication based on the patient’s medical history.

Some specific types of medication errors include:

  • Failure to provide any medication to patients as needed
  • Administering the wrong medication
  • Neglecting to consider a patient’s allergies or potential reactions with medications
  • Giving patients a dosage that’s too high or too low
  • Incorrect preparation of medication
  • Using the wrong form of medication for proper administering

Patient-Related Issues

Doctors and others may also make certain errors relating to the patient, including neglecting to get consent before performing certain procedures, failing to properly identify patients, and not informing patients of their conditions or what a particular treatment or procedure will entail.

Poor Information Flow

In some cases, patients may be unaware of their specific condition and what it involves. They may also not know about the treatment they need or are taking. According to one survey from the Mayo Clinic, less than half of patients even knew what their condition was, with even fewer aware of the medications they took, the reason for their treatment, and the potential side effects of their medications.

Technical Failures

Some medical errors may result from technical failures, including equipment breakdowns or other issues with medical devices, grafts, and other medical supplies or equipment.

Causes of Medical Errors That Lead to Death

There are several root causes of the above potentially fatal medical errors and others. Some of these causes could include:

Miscommunication Between Medical Staff

Medical professionals must maintain good communication with others involved in a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. If medical staff fail to properly and consistently maintain good communication with others, many types of medical errors can occur. For example, a medication error could occur if a doctor fails to communicate the correct dosage prescribed when a nurse needs to provide the medication to the patient. Despite the importance of good communication across medical teams, miscommunication is the most common cause of medical errors.

Making the Wrong Diagnosis or Failing to Diagnose

In cases involving misdiagnoses, doctors may make one of several errors. They may fail to correctly diagnose a condition, for instance, leading them to prescribe treatment for another condition that the patient doesn’t have. In other cases, doctors may simply fail to diagnose the patient with any condition, leaving the patient without treatment that he or she actually needs.

Sometimes, doctors may also provide a delayed diagnosis after a condition has worsened, preventing the patient from getting care he or she could have received earlier had there not been a delay.


Doctors and other medical staff may work long hours or be under prolonged stress, making it necessary for them to take breaks as needed. If medical professionals fail to take breaks and wind up fatigued, they’ll be more likely to cause an error on the job, which could be fatal for patients.

Inadequate Training

Medical professionals may also not have enough training or experience to perform various procedures or communicate effectively with other medical professionals or patients. Medical staff should do what they can to gain the education they need to competently perform their jobs.

Poor Maintenance

Medical errors resulting from technical failure could occur due to poor maintenance. For instance, various medical devices may undergo periods of heavy use and eventually break down. It’s important for medical staff and maintenance professionals to ensure all medical devices and materials get the repairs or replacements they need because of wear or tear.


Medical professionals of all types may also be momentarily inattentive during a procedure. Distractions during surgery and other procedures are potentially fatal, making it essential for medical professionals to keep their attention on the task at hand at all times.

Inadequate Policies and Regulations

Professionals and facilities may also have inadequate policies in place to protect patients from medical errors. They might have vague policies in place that don’t specify protocols or other details, they might not cover all potential risks, or they may not implement policies correctly.

These and other potential causes of medical errors can contribute to a risk for further injury in a hospital that may eventually lead to a fatality.

Identifying the Causes of Fatal Medical Errors

It’s often challenging to identify the root causes of fatal medical mistakes. However, the burden of proof in a medical malpractice case falls on plaintiffs, which include victims and their loved ones.

You will need plenty of evidence showing how a doctor or another medical professional engaged in negligent or malicious behavior to cause harm that led to your loved one’s death. The process can be difficult, but you may have the ability to get the evidence you need with the help of a medical malpractice attorney.

Evidence that may help identify and prove the cause of a fatal medical error could include:

  • Medical records
  • Hospital records
  • Evidence of injuries that patients sustained
  • Video or photographic evidence of malpractice
  • Healthcare regulations and policies
  • Diagnostic test results

There are many other types of evidence that can factor into these cases and prove negligence. If you are unable to obtain them, your attorney may have the resources needed to recover it and organize it in a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim for Fatal Medical Errors

If you want to file a wrongful death claim after a medical error leads to the death of a loved one, there are a few items you must prove.

The first item to prove is that the doctors or hospital treating the patient owed a duty of care. This is normally the easiest item to prove if there’s a clearly established patient-doctor relationship.

Additionally, you will need to show that the medical professional or facility breached this duty of care through a specific form of negligence or malicious behavior. You will also need to prove that this breach of duty led to the patient’s death.

Getting Started With a Wrongful Death Claim

To start filing a claim against negligent medical staff or a hospital for the wrongful death of a loved one, you will need sufficient resources to help build a claim. Normally, a medical malpractice lawyer will start by consulting a medical expert to help determine whether a medical error occurred and who was behind it.

Based on the nature of your case, your attorney may also seek various damages to compensate the loss of a loved one. These can include certain types of economic, including medical expenses for treating conditions resulting from the medical error, lost income that the patient could have earned, funeral and burial expenses, and other costs. You may also be able to recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering that a loved one experienced before his or her passing and the loss of care, consortium, or companionship resulting from the death.

Some cases may also warrant punitive damages. The jury may award these in a trial case if the defendant acted with gross negligence or other egregious behavior. While economic and non-economic damages provide compensation to victims and their loved ones in negligence cases, punitive damages aim to punish defendants. The main goal is to prevent the defendant and others from engaging in the same behavior, including medical staff and hospitals, behind avoidable causes of fatal medical errors.

An attorney may help identify and calculate all damages in these cases to help recover full compensation. He or she may identify the root cause of a fatal medical error and build a successful case to recover the resulting damages from liable parties, including medical staff and hospitals.


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