Few things in life are as traumatic as losing a loved one. If your family member is killed it’s natural to be distraught. The loss of a family member can put your life on hold. Unfortunately, some people don’t exercise their legal rights until it’s too late. It’s important to know what is 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.

A wrongful death action is a civil action in which family members or the estate of the deceased is entitled to compensation for the person who caused the death. The defendant in these cases may not always be a killer in the legal sense. It’s possible to bring a wrongful death suit against someone who was not charged in the criminal courts or was found not guilty. Baltimore wrongful death lawyer Randolph Rice explains how long after a wrongful death you can sue in Maryland.

What is Considered a Wrongful Death in Maryland?

Maryland has had a wrongful death statute since the mid-1800s. The wrongful death code states an action can be bought by or on behalf of a wife, husband, parent, of the 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 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

You can file a wrongful death action in many instances of the loss of a family member including:

  • 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 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;
  • Unnatural deaths in police custody.

What Is the Deadline for a Wrongful Death Case in Maryland?

The wrongful death statute of limitations in Maryland is three years. This is the same time span as the state’s personal injury statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations is the time limit the law gives you to bring a personal injury tort claim. You lose your right to make a claim if the three years elapse before you file a lawsuit.

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.

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’s important not to wait until the 11th hour to contact a Baltimore personal injury lawyer. The attorney will need to gather a lot of 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?

If a child is injured in Maryland, the imitations period does not usually start until he or she is 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.

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 caused a death. An occupational disease is an illness caused by exposure to any toxic substance in the deceased’s workplace which was contracted during the course of the person’s employment.

If an occupational disease caused the victim’s death, an action shall be filed:

  1. Within 10 years of the time of death; or
  2. Within 3 years of the date when the cause of death was discovered, whichever is the shortest.

Possible Conflicts Between the Statute of Limitations and the Cause of the Action

In the case of Susan Mummert, et al. v. Massoud B. Alizadeh, the wrongful death statute of limitations came into conflict with the making of a timely claim for medical malpractice.

The wrongful death case was brought over the failure of a doctor to diagnose a life-threatening condition. The patient complained of significant weight loss and diarrhea and constipation for seven years from 1997 to 2004. The doctor failed to give her treatment such as a colonoscopy or annual rectal exams. Eventually, in May 2004, he conducted a digital rectal exam and referred the patient to a colonoscopy. The test diagnosed a large tumor. The patient was diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer with liver metastasis. She died just under four years later on March 14, 2008. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor on May 12, 2010.

Lawyers for Dr. Massoud Alizadeh argued the statute of limitations had passed. The alleged medical malpractice occurred more than three years before the filing of the lawsuit. A court dismissed the case.  The doctor argued his former patient could not have brought a timely medical negligence claim at the time of her death because the 3-year statute of limitations had expired. The family of the dead woman argued the filing of the wrongful death claim was not linked to the statute of limitations for bringing tort claims against the healthcare provider for medical malpractice. They argued it was linked to the wrongful death statute and the statute of limitations began at the time of the patient’s death.

The Maryland Court of Appeals noted Maryland’s wrongful death statute has changed little since it was enacted in 1852. The justices said the wrongful death statute rather than the statute of limitations for bringing claims against the doctor was relevant. The family of the patient was not barred from suing under the wrongful death statute because the death triggered the 3-year period.

Talk to Our Baltimore Wrongful Death Lawyer for a Free Consultation

Wrongful death cases are extremely traumatic. Even if the death of your family member was someone else’s fault you may be wary about filing a lawsuit. People who die as passengers in car accidents in Baltimore are often riding with friends. Family members often don’t want to sue a close friend. However, death usually causes incredible financial hardship. It’s important to know about the wrongful death limitations laws and to act quickly with the help of a Maryland wrongful death attorney. These are complicated cases and the clock is ticking. At the Law Offices of Randolph Rice, we take over the difficult work of preparing a claim and give you time to grieve. Please call us for a free consultation at 410-431-0911.