Few things in life are as traumatic as losing a loved one. If your family member is killed, it is natural to be distraught. The loss of a family member can put your life on hold. Unfortunately, some people fail to exercise their legal rights until it is too late.
It is important to know what about the wrongful death statute of limitations in Maryland. A statute of limitations is legislation that sets out how long you have to bring a claim. Every area of the law in Maryland has a statute of limitations. Although we all know criminal charges are typically brought against people who take the lives of others, wrongful death is a more misunderstood area of the law.
Call our Maryland wrongful death lawyers from Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291 to schedule a free case review with our team.
What is Considered a Wrongful Death in Maryland?
A wrongful death action is a civil action in which family members or the estate of the deceased are entitled to compensation for the person who caused the death. The defendant in these cases may not necessarily have acted intentionally, as many cases revolve around accidents and negligence. It is possible to bring a wrongful death suit against someone not charged in the criminal courts or found not guilty.
Maryland has had a wrongful death statute since the mid-1800s. The wrongful death code states that an action can be bought by or on behalf of a wife, husband, parent, or child of the deceased.
The law of wrongful death is relatively new. Under common law, inherited from codes developed over centuries in England, surviving family members were not permitted to sue for the death of a loved one.
This meant that people who suffered injuries had more rights than the relatives of the deceased. It gave little impetus for railroads, factories, and others to protect workers from fatal accidents and meant there was a legal impetus to kill someone rather than injure them. Maryland rectified the situation in 1852 when the state enacted wrongful death legislation.
How Do I Know If I Have a Wrongful Death Case?
In the case of Mummert v. Alizadeh, the Maryland Court of Appeals defined a “wrongful act” as an act that the deceased would have had a right to file a lawsuit over and seek compensation had they not died. It can be an omission as well as an act, such as when a doctor fails to provide adequate medical treatment.
People who bring wrongful death actions often also bring survival claims at the same time. While wrongful death claims are made for the emotional loss to family members, survival claims related to injuries suffered by the deceased, including pain and suffering in the time leading up to death, lost wages between the time of the injury and death, and funeral expenses. The statute of limitations is the same as in a wrongful death case.
Examples of Common Wrongful Death Actions in Maryland
People throughout Maryland are injured in preventable accidents. The causes of these accidents are as varied as the people in the state. When the injuries are fatal, you can file a wrongful death action in many instances of the loss of a family member, including the following:
- Deaths in a car, truck, motorcycle, pedestrian or bus, or train crash,
- Fatalities due to dangerous conditions in a building,
- Deaths due to chemical poisoning,
- Drugs with fatal side effects like cancer,
- Medical malpractice, including surgical errors, misdiagnosis, or any other mistake leading to the death of a patient,
- Elder abuse at a nursing home resulting in the death of a patient,
- Fatal industrial accidents in the workplace,
- Deliberate acts like shootings, or
- Unnatural deaths in police custody.
If your family member or loved one died in a tragic accident, our Maryland attorney for wrongful death from a car accident, medical mistake, or other cause can help.
What is the Deadline for a Wrongful Death Case in Maryland?
Every state has a statute of limitations that sets forth the specific deadlines for filing a lawsuit. One of the reasons behind a statute of limitations is to ensure defendants are not placed in a situation where they need to defend against allegations after crucial evidence is no longer available.
The wrongful death statute of limitations in Maryland is three years from the date of the death. This is the same time span as the state’s personal injury statute of limitations. There is a discovery exemption in wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice. This exemption gives the claimant an extension from when the negligence is discovered. However, the extension will not exceed five years from the date of death. It is essential to understand that the discovery extension only applies to medical malpractice cases.
Another critical difference between wrongful death claims and ordinary personal injury cases is the general extension applied if the injured person is a minor. For personal injury lawsuits, a minor’s statute of limitations does not begin until they reach the age of 18. This extension does not apply to wrongful death actions.
You lose your right to make a claim if the three years elapse before you file a lawsuit. If you believe your loved one was killed because of another’s negligence, you should speak with our Baltimore wrongful death attorney immediately.
Allowing the deadline to pass will prohibit you from pursuing your rights. If you let time pass, crucial evidence could become lost and vital witnesses could become unavailable. Furthermore, even if all the witnesses are found, their memory of critical details is likely to have faded. Prevailing in a wrongful death lawsuit is often heavily dependent on the quality of evidence available.
When Does the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Maryland Begin?
The clock starts ticking for the wrongful death statute of limitations at the time of your family member’s death. The personal injury statute of limitations begins when the injury is sustained.
It is not uncommon for two lawsuits to arise from the same incident. For example, your loved one could have been severely injured in a car accident. Because the accident was not their fault, they could file a personal injury claim to seek compensation for their medical expenses and other available damages. If they die because of their injuries while the personal injury claim is pending or even after it settles, an eligible family member is still entitled to file a wrongful death claim.
It is important to note that the statute of limitations in a personal injury lawsuit does not impact a wrongful death claim. Turning to the above example, imagine the person injured in the car accident failed to file a timely personal injury lawsuit, and their case was prohibited because of the statute of limitations. If they should die because of the injuries suffered in the accident, a wrongful death lawsuit is still permissible – as long as it is filed within three years of the date of the death.
Although three years seems like a long time, and the period is longer in Maryland than in some other states, it can pass very quickly. It is important not to wait until the 11th hour to contact a Maryland personal injury lawyer. The attorney must gather much evidence before filing a lawsuit. This can be problematic on the eve of the statute of limitations expiring.
What is the Statute of Limitations for the Wrongful Death of a Child in Maryland?
As stated above, if a child is injured in Maryland, the imitations period does not usually start until they are 18. This is not the case with wrongful death. The statute of limitations begins as soon as the child dies, the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled. Losing a child is the most tragic event a parent could experience. It is not uncommon for a grieving parent to not even think that they have a legal right to be compensated for their loss. Our compassionate Maryland wrongful death attorney is dedicated to helping devastated parents fight for their rights.
Unfortunately, many parents lose their children before their lives have truly begun. Birth is a natural yet still dangerous process. You are entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit if you lose a child during delivery. Furthermore, this right extends to the fetus in some cases.
In Maryland, parents are permitted to file a wrongful death claim if a fetus would have been viable outside of the mother’s womb. In such cases, the three-year statute of limitations remains. However, because it arises from a medical malpractice claim, parents could have up to five years to file a lawsuit if the doctor’s or hospital’s negligence was not immediately known.
Does an Occupational Disease Affect the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Maryland?
The rules are slightly different when an occupational disease such as mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos during employment causes a death. An occupational disease is an illness caused by exposure to any toxic substance in the deceased’s workplace that was contracted during the person’s employment.
If an occupational disease caused the victim’s death, an action must be filed:
- Within 10 years of the time of death; or
- Within 3 years of the date when the cause of death was discovered, whichever is the shortest.
Wrongful death claims arising from occupational diseases are challenging and complex. Our skilled Maryland wrongful death attorney has the experience and resources to provide your family with professional representation. However, it remains essential to contact our office sooner than later. The statute of limitations is a deadline to protect the defendant; it is not meant to give the plaintiff years to think about filing a case. If you want to increase your chances of success and receive the compensation you deserve, it is critical to have our office working on your case sooner rather than later.
Other Factors That Might Affect the Statute of Limitations in a Wrongful Death Claim
Numerous factors surrounding a wrongful death might influence when the statute of limitations begins to run or if it can be tolled. The defendant might be facing criminal charges related to the wrongful death. Maybe the only surviving family member is a child. Perhaps the defendant used fraud to conceal their wrongful actions. The defendant might even be missing. If these conditions are present in your case, you might have a bit more time to file your lawsuit.
Wrongful death cases often involve criminal charges. Even if the death was unintentional, the defendant might still be held criminally responsible. They could be charged with various crimes and put on trial, which can be time-consuming. Typically, a criminal trial takes precedence over a related civil trial, and civil plaintiffs have to wait until criminal proceedings are over before their case can start.
The criminal justice process may take a long time. In cases involving death, the police often conduct very thorough investigations. In especially complex or difficult cases, the investigation alone might take months or longer. By the time the defendant is charged, we might still have to wait through numerous hearings and proceedings. Not to mention the fact that the trial might take several weeks to complete.
Typically, courts will toll the statute of limitations for plaintiffs whose claims cannot commence until after a criminal trial. However, we might be able to file the case before the criminal trial is done, but your civil trial likely would not be scheduled until much later.
As discussed above, there are different rules regarding wrongful death claims when the deceased person is an adult versus a child. When we think of wrongful death cases involving a parent, we often assume that another adult family member, such as the other parent, will file the case on behalf of their child. However, many families are single-parent households, and there might be no other adult to file the lawsuit.
In such a case, the court might be willing to toll the statute of limitations if the only surviving family member is a minor child. Depending on the child’s age, the statute might be tolled until the child reaches 18 years of age. If the child is particularly young, the court might instead appoint a guardian to handle the case on the child’s behalf.
One of the most complicated parts of wrongful death claims is determining whether the death was in fact wrongful. This is a major allegation, and it should not be made lightly. In many cases, the defendant will assure the plaintiff that nothing wrongful took place, even if the defendant knows this is untrue.
For example, in medical malpractice cases where a patient passes away because of a doctor’s medical negligence, the doctor might mislead the surviving family and conceal their negligence to avoid being held responsible. It might be years before the family realizes the truth and takes legal action against the doctor.
These instances are sometimes referred to as fraudulent concealment. Plaintiffs can argue for extra time to file their claims in these cases because defendants should not be permitted to benefit from lying to plaintiffs. Essentially, the defendant cannot be allowed to lie their way out of liability.
The Defendant Cannot Be Located
Another problem many plaintiffs face in wrongful death claims is that the defendant cannot be located. It is not uncommon for defendants to panic and flee after their wrongful actions cause someone else’s death. Unfortunately, many of these negligent people do not do the right thing and come back.
One widely known example is a hit and run accident. The defendant might have fled the scene after causing the accident, and nobody could get an identification. Alternatively, people often flee after committing a violent crime that costs someone their life. Usually, the police conduct thorough investigations to track these people down. While they are often successful, and defendants are brought to justice, this is not always the case.
If you are still trying to find the defendant so they can be brought to justice, the courts might be willing to toll the statute of limitations. Generally, you must show the court that you are doing your due diligence to find the defendant.
How Soon Should I Speak to a Lawyer About My Wrongful Death Claims
It would be best to speak to an attorney about your wrongful death claims as soon as possible. It takes a while to prepare for a case of this magnitude. There might be months of preparations to go through before we even file the lawsuit. Evidence and witnesses must be located, damages must be assessed, and legal strategies must be evaluated. If you wait to file your case, you and your lawyer might have less time to prepare, and your case might not be as strong as it could be.
Our Maryland wrongful death attorneys need to begin with as much time on the clock as possible. This will allow us to review your medical records, talk to potential medical expert witnesses, speak with lay witnesses, and assess your damages. Developing effective legal strategies also takes time, as we must review relevant laws and case law and apply them to the unique facts of your case.
If your wrongful death claims are wrapped up in medical malpractice, there might be additional hurdles to jump, and we might need even more time. Typically, medical malpractice claims must be evaluated by an expert who provides the court with a certificate attesting to medical negligence. As you can probably guess, this should not be put off until the last minute.
Our Maryland Wrongful Death Attorneys Can Help
Contact our Dundalk wrongful death attorneys at Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling (410) 694-7291 and arrange for a free case review as soon as possible.