Understanding Your Legal Rights: What to Do After a Death in a Substance Use Disorder Facility


A substance use disorder (SUD) facility, also known as a drug treatment center or rehab, is a healthcare institution tasked with treating and supporting individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction. These facilities offer various therapies and programs to help patients overcome their dependencies and reintegrate into society. If a loved one dies while admitted to an SUD facility, there can be significant cause for concern. Treatment in these centers should ideally lead to recovery, not death. When a death occurs, it raises questions about the quality of care provided, the adequacy of supervision, and adherence to established protocols for patient safety.

Steps to Take if You’ve Lost a Loved One in a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Facility

Losing a loved one is always heartbreaking, but when it happens in an SUD facility, it can be even more emotionally challenging. The following list will guide you through the steps you need to take if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

  • Investigating and Documenting the Incident: The first step in determining if you have a potential claim is thorough investigation and documentation. Gather relevant records, such as medical records, incident reports, and witness statements.
  • Requesting the Decedent's Client File: With proper HIPPA authorizations, an SUD facility must turn over the decedent’s client file, despite what they may claim otherwise.
  • Scheduling an Autopsy and the Importance of a Medical Examination: To determine the cause of death, especially if there are concerns about negligence or foul play, you may need to request an autopsy.
  • Reviewing Facility Policies: Another crucial step is to examine the facility's policies and procedures to determine if they were followed appropriately. Negligence or violation of established standards may be grounds for legal action.
  • Reporting to Government Investigations: Report the incident to relevant state agencies, such as the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). If the death occurred in a SUD treatment facility, the SUD treatment facility is required to notify the DHCS, and a death investigation should follow.
  • Accessing Investigation Results: The results of a government investigation are a matter of public record and can be sought through a request via the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Understanding the Statute of Limitations: It's essential to be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California. There is a specific timeframe within which legal action must be initiated, and failure to do so will bar you from bringing the claim.
  • Consulting an Attorney: An attorney with experience handling these types of cases can provide personalized advice based on your specific circumstances.

Some facilities may prioritize profit over patient welfare, leading to substandard care or neglect. In such cases, the family of the deceased may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. This legal action can hold the facility accountable for its negligence or misconduct and provide some measure of justice for the grieving family.

Act Promptly to Protect Your Rights

At Lowe Lazar Law, LLP, we have many years of experience handling personal injury cases, including wrongful death claims. If you've tragically lost a loved one in a SUD facility, it's crucial to act promptly and reach out to us for a consultation. Remember, the law imposes time limits on filing these types of lawsuits, so every moment counts. Our award-winning attorneys are dedicated to client care, and our legal team is committed to being there for you every step of the way. Our firm prides itself on responsiveness, diligent communication, reliability, and personalized attention to each client's needs.

Don't wait—protect your rights today by reaching out to Lowe Lazar Law, LLP. Please reach out to our team by calling us at (619) 815-8156 or contacting us online.
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