In wrongful death cases that involve medical malpractice or negligence by nursing homes, there is one thing that stands out as the most difficult for family members – having to relive their loss over and over during the case. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. But it’s also manageable, and here are some ideas to make it more manageable.
1. Remember your purpose.
Money, unfortunately, is the only thing a jury or judge can award you in a medical negligence or nursing home malpractice case. It is important to remember what that money represents – your loss. In Virginia, damages in a wrongful death action go to statutory beneficiaries based on categories that include “sorrow, mental anguish, and solace which may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent.” Virginia Code § 8.01-52. That is the fancy way of saying you can recover for how the death of your family member has affected you, for what you have lost.
So, during a lawsuit, the purpose of having to relive all the ways that the loss of your family member has affected you is to help the factfinder really understand your loss. Yes, the loss is difficult to express, but the way to hold the doctor, hospital, or nursing home responsible requires that you articulate that loss, despite how uncomfortable that can be.
I say you will have to relive the loss over and over because there are multiple points in time during a lawsuit when someone will ask you about it. In the beginning, your own attorneys will have to ask you to be sure they understand every relevant aspect of the case. After a lawsuit is filed, the defendant’s attorney will have the opportunity to ask you about your loss, both in written and oral questions. If you attempt to settle the case through mediation, your loss will be on display again. And then, if you go to trial, you will have to talk about it in preparation for trial and at trial. In addition to that, the litigation itself will probably just remind you.
So how do you brace yourself for that? Prepare. Ask your lawyer questions about what to expect and when you will need to talk about things. Give yourself space and time in advance of those moments to reflect and prepare. For some people, a walk or bike ride clears the mind. For others, a good meal with family or talking with close friends will help. Whatever it is, identify it and do it. Set yourself up to minimize the potential stress.
3. Give yourself permission to grieve (again).
Not only will you have to talk about very personal things many times, but you will have to do it in front of strangers and near strangers. Many of us have a natural tendency to hide our grieving from most people, especially strangers. Grieving, after all, is usually such a private thing. In this setting, however, your grief empowers you. It adds value, depth, sincerity, and meaning to your case. Give yourself permission to grieve.
It’s easier said than done, but try to flip the script and see the positive in talking about your loss. Look at it as an opportunity rather than a burden – an opportunity to share the beautiful memories you have with anyone who cares to listen and to strengthen your own connection to those memories.
As Lois Lowry writes in The Giver, “The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” So share yours.
Lauren E. Davis at Frith & Ellerman Law Firm in Roanoke, Virginia is an experienced personal injury, medical malpractice, and nursing home negligence attorney serving Virginia.
Learn more about our services at https://frithlawfirm.com/ or call us at (540)985-0098.