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How Are Wrongful Death Proceeds Divided in Maryland?


In a wrongful death case, the family of the deceased seeks damages for what happened to their loved one.  These damages can be essential for the family to move on, especially if the deceased loved one was responsible for bringing home income for the family or if the family paid for expensive medical care before their death.  it is important to understand how these damages are distributed among the surviving family.
Damages from a loved one’s death are split into damages for a “wrongful death action” paid to the family and damages for a “survival action” paid to the deceased victim.  the damages for wrongful death reimburse the family for their losses, typically distributed directly to the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased proportional to the harm suffered.  Since the victim cannot receive damages, the damages for a survival action fall to the deceased’s estate and are distributed through their will or under the intestacy statute.
For help with a wrongful death case in Maryland, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras today.  Our Maryland wrongful death lawyers offer free case reviews on wrongful death claims.  You can reach us at (410) 694-7291.

Wrongful Death Claims vs. Survival Actions – How Damages are Distributed in Maryland

When someone dies because of an accident or someone else’s negligent actions, there are typically two types of claims filed: a wrongful death action and a survival action.  the wrongful death action is designed to help the family and pay them damages for their loss.  the survival action is essentially the personal injury lawsuit that the deceased victim would have filed if they had survived the accident.  These cases pay different types of damages and distribute them differently.

What Damages Are Paid in a Wrongful Death Case?

In a wrongful death case, the deceased’s loved ones can file a claim to reimburse them for their losses.  No amount of money can replace a lost loved one, so these damages often pay for the economic damages they face – such as burial and funeral costs – as well as non-economic damages – such as mental anguish and lost companionship, advice, and guidance.

Who Gets Wrongful Death Damages?

These damages are paid to specific people under the terms of Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc., § 3-904(a)(1):

  • The spouse
  • The parents
  • The children

The Code used to refer to these people as “primary beneficiaries.”
If the parents are not married, the mother is considered the “parent” of the child.  An unmarried father needs to meet certain standards, such as openly accepting the child as their own, to be considered a legal parent.  A court order affirming the father is the child’s parent will also suffice.
Parents also cannot claim damages for a deceased child if the child was an adult and was no longer supported by their parents for at least 50% of their support.
If the deceased has no spouse, children, or parents who can benefit from a wrongful death case, anyone else related to the deceased by blood or marriage can sue.  This only applies if they were “substantially dependent” on the victim, according to § 3-904(b).  the Code used to refer to these people as “secondary beneficiaries.”

How Are They Distributed?

Since these people sue for their own benefits, the damages are distributed in whatever way they need to be to adequately address these individuals’ damages.  For instance, a spouse might claim additional compensation for their lost spousal benefits while a parent would not make the same claim and might not get as much in compensation.  the spouse arguably faced a bigger loss, so they get higher damages.
Talk to a Rockville wrongful death lawyer for help determining how much you might be able to claim in a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Damages Are Paid in a Survival Action?

In a survival action, the goal is to reimburse the deceased’s estate for the damages the deceased would have been able to claim if they’d survived the accident.  This allows damages to be paid for things like pain and suffering as well as end-of-life medical expenses, lost wages, and more.

Who Gets Survival Action Damages?

The wrongful death victim would get these damages if they survived their injuries.  Personal injury cases “survive” the deceased and pass to the deceased’s estate.  So instead of the deceased individual claiming these damages, their estate claims the damages on their behalf.
“The estate” of a deceased person is the sum-total of their assets and belongings, collected and administered by an “administer,” also called a “personal representative” or an “executor” of the estate.  These survival action damages are put into the estate along with any other money or property the deceased owned.

How Are They Distributed?

Since these damages are added to the deceased’s estate, they are distributed along with any other assets in the estate according to the decedent’s will or Maryland’s intestacy statute.
If the wrongful death victim died with a will, then these damages will be distributed according to the terms of the will.  This usually means including these damages with the rest of the property and distributing the estate as a whole rather than giving the survival action damages to a particular person or people separate from the rest of the estate.
Usually, people use their will to leave their estate to their spouse or children, though they are free to will their money to other people.  That could mean willing the estate to a romantic partner they are not legally married to or even a close friend or a charity.  Wills may also bequeath the estate to a trust so their loved ones can draw income from that money.
If the wrongful death victim died without a will, they are considered “intestate,” and Maryland’s intestacy statute – Md. Code, Est. & Tr., § 3 – will dictate how to divide the estate.  Typically, this law gives the spouse and direct descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.) the whole estate.  Parents and other family members only receive money if there are no spouses or direct descendants to inherit the estate.

Call Our Maryland Wrongful Death Attorneys for Help

If your loved one was killed in an accident and you are considering filing a wrongful death case, call (410) 694-7291 today.  the Dundalk wrongful death lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras offer free case evaluations.