Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy, particularly if it was caused by the negligent or reckless actions of another. Many people in addition to immediate family members may suffer the consequences of the loss. Determining what your legal options may be and acting on them can be a critical step in restoring justice and a certain level of comfort for those who grieve this tragic loss.
Wrongful death claims give surviving family members access to financial compensation for their loss. If someone dies as the result of malicious intent (murder) or an act of negligence, a wrongful death suit may provide survivors with damages to cover costs including the loss of support and service, medical expenses, and more. After a tragic loss, a wrongful death claim often provides a sense of justice and closure when a criminal action cannot.
If you are hoping to file a wrongful death claim in Maryland after losing a loved one, Rice, Murtha & Psoras want to help. Our dedicated Maryland wrongful death attorneys are ready to help you with your search for justice. To hear more about our services and have your questions answered, call us today for a free consultation. We can be reached at (410) 694-7291.
The Two Types of Wrongful Death Claims in Maryland and How They Differ
In Maryland, survivors can file two types of wrongful death claims: survival actions and wrongful death actions. Survival actions are lawsuits where the estate, rather than any beneficiary, is the plaintiff. Wrongful death actions may be brought by one or more of the beneficiaries as described below.
A survival action compensates an individual’s estate for losses related to death including medical expenses and funeral costs. Survival action may also compensate the estate for a decedent’s pain and suffering resulting from an act of negligence. In other words, compensation for a survival action depends entirely on the harm to the deceased themselves, rather than their family members.
Wrongful Death Actions
Wrongful death actions directly compensate family members for their losses. the jury evaluates the survivor’s relationship with the deceased individual and relevant evidence to award damages for economic (e.g., lost work and financial support) and non-economic losses (e.g., loss of companionship and guidance). A jury may award punitive damages above and beyond economic and non-economic losses as a way to punish excessively negligent and malicious defendants.
How Does Maryland Define a “Wrongful Act”?
Under Maryland law, a “wrongful death” is one that is caused by “an act, neglect, or default including a felonious act which would have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensured.”
To put it simply, a wrongful act could be anything that the deceased would have been able to file a personal injury lawsuit for if they had not died as a result. Common personal injury causes include car accidents, product liability, medical malpractice, or intentional acts. If the act in question would constitute a crime, it is typically safe to infer that the act in question would be considered wrongful for the purposes of a wrongful death claim in Maryland.
Who (Claimants) Can Qualify for Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Under Maryland laws, wrongful death actions must include all possible beneficiaries, even if the beneficiary does not actively choose to join the action. If you choose not to take part in the action, your participation remains in name only. In Maryland, the following individuals may file a wrongful death action or a survival action:
Living primary beneficiaries who file actions receive the full amount awarded in the claim. These individuals include spouses, children, and parents of the deceased. An unlimited amount of these individuals that exist may be named as beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit. There cannot be multiple wrongful death lawsuits, so it is critical that every primary beneficiary is notified of their opportunity to participate.
If a primary beneficiary does not file a claim, a surviving sibling, niece, nephew, cousin, and other extended family members may file a claim for both living primary and secondary beneficiaries.
The procedures governing wrongful death actions are fairly straightforward. However, identifying and including beneficiaries can complicate matters. To satisfy Maryland laws, plaintiffs must make a “good faith effort” to notify all possible claimants of the action. A good faith effort entails reasonable measures to ascertain the identities of all possible claimants as well as multiple reasonable efforts to contact them.
After the plaintiff notifies all possible beneficiaries, the case moves forward. To prove wrongful death, a claimant must provide evidence of death, the presence of negligence or the intent to injure, and the connection between the defendant’s act and an individual’s death.
Can Siblings and Other Types of Relatives File Claims?
As touched on above, siblings, cousins, and other extended family members may file a wrongful death action only if a primary beneficiary (such as a spouse, child, or parent) does not file one. If there are no surviving primary beneficiaries, the secondary beneficiary may move ahead with their suit, but must make a good faith effort to notify all other secondary beneficiaries in advance of their filing of the suit. Since this can be a time-consuming process, it is always helpful to start working on your case early, as the three-year deadline for filing a claim (outlined below) can sneak up on you.
Can Domestic or Co-Habituating Partners File Claims?
Strictly speaking, primary beneficiaries are limited to parents, children, and spouses as defined under the law of the State of Maryland. As such, domestic and co-habituating partners are not primary beneficiaries with the ability to file a wrongful death suit immediately. However, they will likely enjoy the status of a secondary beneficiary. As the law develops on the rights of domestic partners and definitions of legal relationships in contrast to the traditional form of marriage, our Mount Airy wrongful death attorneys will be keeping a close eye out for developments in the law in this area.
Will More Beneficiaries Reduce Damages for a Wrongful Death Claim in Maryland?
It is reasonable to be concerned that adding beneficiaries to a wrongful death lawsuit will limit compensation for those already named as beneficiaries. However, in Maryland, that is not the case. Maryland courts will determine the amount of compensation for each beneficiary rather than how much is owed as a whole in a wrongful death lawsuit.
For example, if a person dies and leaves behind two children who are named beneficiaries in a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the court will determine the damages for the two children independently from each other or any other beneficiary. If the court determines the damages for Child A to be $400,000, Child A will receive $400,000 regardless of what Child B or any other beneficiary receives or doesn’t. For this reason, it is always best to attempt to add as many valid beneficiaries as possible to a lawsuit, as it can only grow the potential compensation value.
Timelines for Wrongful Death Claims in Maryland
Under the state’s statute of limitations, a plaintiff must file a wrongful death claim within three years of the date of death. Wrongful death claims can take as long as any other personal injury claim, including many of the same elements. After meeting with an attorney, a claimant must identify and notify as many beneficiaries as possible before filing the claim in court.
Following the initial filing, several back and forth summons/answers and claims/counterclaims may take place. During the discovery phase of the case, which may take a significant amount of time, each side delivers relevant information. Using information exchange processes including interrogatories, depositions, and other requests, the plaintiff and defendant fine-tune their cases. Many cases then go to negotiations and resolve before moving to trial. Many cases resolve in settlement on the day that the trial is set to commence. These are called “courthouse steps” settlements and can be very lucrative. If a case moves to trial, the timeline extends once more.
Wrongful death claims take time, but they can hold a negligent or malicious individual liable for your loved one’s death and provide the compensation your family needs to move forward. Because wrongful death claims arise in civil court, a survivor can file an action concurrently with criminal investigations and cases. it is not uncommon for defendants who prevail in their criminal case to lose to a plaintiff in a civil case, so if the party responsible for your loved one’s death has already escaped criminal charges, do not be discouraged. You can still achieve justice.
Damages for Wrongful Death Actions in Maryland
When someone succeeds in a wrongful death claim, they are awarded compensation for the harms that the wrongful death has caused. This compensation is called “damages.” Damages are awarded proportionally to all beneficiaries named in the lawsuit.
Maryland law allows for beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit to claim damages for all of the following:
- Loss of companionship and comfort
- Loss of marital, parental, or filial care
- Loss of education
- Pain and suffering, mental anguish and pain
- Loss of income
- Loss of expected financial contributions from the deceased
The State of Maryland places a cap on non-economic damages (or damages from pain and suffering and other personal or emotional harms) that are available in wrongful death lawsuits.
The cap varies depending on the number of beneficiaries named in the lawsuit. For instance, Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages for wrongful death suits with one beneficiary that were commenced before October 1, 2021 is $845,000. In cases where there is more than one beneficiary, the cap is 150% of the total for one beneficiary. In other words, the present cap for multiple beneficiaries would be $1,267,500. Every year, on October 1, the cap increases by $15,000. Bear in mind that October 1 threshold, as it can substantially impact your recovery.
Free Consultation from Our Baltimore Wrongful Death Attorneys
To learn more about the wrongful death process in Maryland, discuss your case with a Baltimore personal injury lawyer from the team at Rice, Murtha & Psoras. Every case is different, and a free consultation may help you understand your ability to file a claim and the time frame for doing so. Contact us today! (410) 694-7291