Thousands of people die each year in traffic accidents, sometimes immediately and sometimes after lingering for a lengthy period. These deaths cause considerable anguish for the surviving family members, despite the fact that they usually were not even involved in the fatal accident.
Maryland, like other states, has enacted a law that recognizes these losses and allows for them to be compensated in a wrongful death claim. This claim is related to, but distinct from, the right of the deceased victims to recover for the injuries prior to dying, and for the estate of the deceased to recover for the financial loss associated with the death in what the law calls a survival action. It can be confusing, since the relatives who file a wrongful death claim are, in fact, “survivors,” while the deceased’s claim is called a “survival” action when the victim did not, in fact, survive. The important thing, though, is that experienced accident lawyers know the difference, and understand who can bring what claims for which damages.
What matters is that someone’s death was “wrongfully” caused, so a wrongful death claim can follow fatal accidents of any kind: cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, pedestrians, electrocutions, drowning, slips-and-falls…any kind. It also doesn’t matter what the “legal ground” is; wrongful death claims are just as appropriate when the defendant’s liability is based on strict liability as when it’s based on negligence, and just as appropriate when it’s based on the defendant’s direct actions, like drinking and driving, as when it’s based on indirect actions like hiring a delivery driver with a known drunk driving history.
Maryland’s wrongful death statute (§ 3-904) recognizes two distinct classes of people who can file wrongful death claims:
For the most part, secondary beneficiaries can recover only if no primary beneficiary exists, or no primary beneficiary files a claim. The rules on how damages are divided among the beneficiaries can be very complex and dealing with them is definitely best left to an experienced Maryland wrongful death attorney.
The damages in a wrongful death claim are the amounts to compensate for what the relatives have lost themselves. This includes damages for both economic loss and non-economic loss. Economic damages include the financial support the deceased would have provided, as well as the value of the services the deceased would have provided (cooking, home maintenance, and the great many other things that relatives—especially spouses—do for each other). There is a great deal of subjectivity in determining exactly what those services would have been in any given case, and in assigning a value to them. The services of a truly experienced wrongful death attorney can be invaluable in obtaining these damages.
Non-economic damages are those intended to compensate for mental and emotional suffering, and the loss of the deceased’s role in the lives of the family members. The latter is a rather vague concept that is usually described in terms of “loss of affection” and “loss of companionship.”
The damages in a survival action are the amounts that the victim would have been entitled to recover but for the intervention of death. Damages are payable to the estate and then distributed according to the will or, if none, the intestacy laws. As in wrongful death claims, damages can include both economic and non-economic damages.
Typical economic damages in a survival action include:
The noneconomic damages are the pain and suffering the deceased experienced from the time of the accident until death.
There is no wrongful death recovery or survival action until you prove that the death was wrongful. To successfully handle wrongful death actions, your attorney needs to be experienced in establishing negligence in a wide variety of accident types, including medical malpractice. Once that’s done, the attorney needs to be intimately familiar with wrongful death and survival claims, including the complex rules on beneficiaries and allocating damages among the beneficiaries; not to mention the Maryland cap on “noneconomic” damages like pain and suffering.
Get the experienced help you need in dealing with the death of a loved one. Call the personal injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Randolph Rice today for compassionate and committed legal advocacy that is focused on getting results. There is no charge for the initial case evaluation and no fee until you recover. Call us at 410.288.2900