According to a recent report released by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid out over $200 million in wrongful death claims to the families of veterans who died while under its care during the past decade.
In Illinois, 45 wrongful death lawsuits were filed against the VA that resulted in settlements, making Illinois the state with the fifth highest rate of wrongful death settlements against the VA nationwide.
One Illinois VA hospital had the dubious distinction of being the hospital with the most VA wrongful death claims against it, having paid out $7.7 million in settlements for 25 deaths. At least 10 of those deaths were of patients under the care of the same doctor, who was hired at the hospital while under investigation by another state over two patient deaths in that location.
One of the patients bled to death after a gallbladder surgery. Another suffered a ruptured spleen during surgery. Yet another died after a lymph node biopsy because of septic shock.
A spokesperson for the VA stated that the roughly 1,000 wrongful death lawsuits is a very small number in comparison to the millions of veterans who have been treated over the same decade. However, independent legal analysts have pointed out that the 1,000 wrongful death lawsuits are also only a tiny portion of the veterans who have died as a result of malpractice while in its care.
Many bereaved families never file lawsuits nor receive compensation due to the difficulty of pursuing claims against the VA. Unlike other lawsuits, plaintiffs in lawsuits against the VA must first endure an administrative process that can last several months. Then, even if they win, because the defendant is the federal government, plaintiffs can only collect actual and not punitive damages. Nationally, the average payment made by the VA per lawsuit was $150,000.
Whether a veteran or not, if you feel your loved one may have been the victim of a wrongful death, speaking with an attorney may help answer some of your questions regarding your rights. When negligence and poor medical care play a factor in the death of a loved one, family members have the right to understand their options regarding legal action.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “VA pays a price in wrongful deaths,” Aaron Glantz, April 29, 2014