Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim

In most personal injury or medical malpractice cases, the injured person is the party who can maintain a cause of action against the tortfeasor or wrongdoer. However, there are exceptions to this general rule, and one of those exceptions is contained in Maryland’s Wrongful Death Statute.

Under this law, the family of a person who has died has a right to sue those responsible for that family member’s death. This is all more fully set forth in Maryland Code Annotated, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article § 3-904.

What follows is a primer on Maryland’s wrongful death statute, specifically what types of claims are permitted, who is permitted to assert those claims, and what damages can be recovered.

woman going up to man who isn't moving

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

In order to answer this question, it is important to distinguish a wrongful death claim from what is known as a survival action. A wrongful death claim is brought by the family of the deceased to compensate them for the pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish they have experienced and will continue to experience as a result of losing a close family member.

By contrast, a survival action is a direct personal injury claim by the estate of the deceased, through its personal representative for the harm caused to the deceased prior to their death. Specifically, that can include any medical expenses incurred prior to their death in addition to pain and suffering or emotional distress suffered by the deceased before their passing.

These claims are mutually exclusive meaning that both can be pursued at the same time or separately.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Under the statute, spouses, parents, and children of the deceased each have a separate and independent right to pursue a claim against the individual whose wrongful act caused the death of the deceased.

Additionally, if the deceased did not have a surviving husband, wife, child, or parent, any other person related to the deceased by “blood or marriage” can pursue a claim. However, in order to do so, they must have been “substantially dependent” upon the deceased prior to their death.

lawyer shaking hands

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Under the statute, spouses, parents, and children of the deceased each have a separate and independent right to pursue a claim against the individual whose wrongful act caused the death of the deceased.

Additionally, if the deceased did not have a surviving husband, wife, child, or parent, any other person related to the deceased by “blood or marriage” can pursue a claim. However, in order to do so, they must have been “substantially dependent” upon the deceased prior to their death.

Under § 3-904(g)(1) of the statute, a wrongful death claim must be filed within three (3) years after the deceased’s death.

Additionally, Maryland’s Court of Appeals has confirmed that the three (3) year statute of limitations does not begin to run until the individual’s death. As such, the wrongful act could have occurred well in advance of the death but does not trigger the start of the limitations period. It is, however, important to note that this is different for survival actions which are likely triggered by the wrongful act.

It is also important to note that if the deceased did not file a timely claim during their lifetime, that does not bar a wrongful death claim by family members after the death of the injured party. For example, someone could survive for 10 years after an injury caused by a wrongful act, but once they pass away (as long as their passing was caused by the original wrongful act), the surviving family members would still be able to pursue a wrongful death claim.

Is There a Limit on Damages?

Yes, Maryland’s legislature has instituted a cap on damages for the total amount of recovery in a wrongful death claim, and that cap increases annually.

In addition, there is also a cap on the amount that can be awarded if there are two or more claimants, which equates to 150% of the single cap amount. And finally, there is also a cap on the non-economic damages that can be awarded to an estate in a survival action. Again, while those funds flow to the beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate, they may well end up with the same beneficiaries as those possessing a wrongful death claim.

Below is a chart reflecting the cap on damages under Maryland’s wrongful death statute from 2010 to the present.

Cause of Action Arises on or After

Single Claimant Limit

Multiple Claimant Limit

Combined Limit for Wrongful Death and Survival Action

10/1/2010 $740,000.00 $1,110,000.00 $1,850,000.00
10/1/2011 $755,000.00 $1,132,500.00 $1,887,500.00
10/1/2012 $770,000.00 $1,155,000.00 $1,925,000.00
10/1/2013 $785,000.00 $1,177,500.00 $1,962,500.00
10/1/2014 $800,000.00 $1,200,000.00 $2,000,000.00
10/1/2015 $815,000.00 $1,222,500.00 $2,037,500.00
10/1/2016 $830,000.00 $1,245,000.00 $2,075,000.00
10/1/2017 $845,000.00 $1,267,000.00 $2,112,500.00
10/1/2018 $860,000.00 $1,290,000.00 $2,150,000.00
10/1/2019 $875,000.00 $1,312,500.00 $2,187,500.00

What Does This Mean for Me?

Wrongful death cases are, by definition, very emotional and stressful. A close family member has died and no amount of financial compensation will truly compensate the family members’ for their loss. However, it is also critically important that anyone who believes they have a wrongful death claim act quickly to retain an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney.

Insurance companies know the true value of these claims and will always look to settle these cases quickly before the family has hired an attorney. Additionally, it is critically important to get an attorney involved early to ensure that any evidence is preserved which maximizes the chances of success.

So if you believe you have a wrongful death claim in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, or anywhere in the state of Maryland, contact us today at 443-275-6345 and let us fight for you!

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