Families mourning the death of a loved one often have legal options they have not considered. In many cases involving product liability, negligence, and intentional violence, a civil wrongful death suit or even criminal charges may be an option for families who have lost a loved one. Though wrongful death is a relatively new legal construct, it can help families recover damages and come to terms with the seemingly senseless death of a loved one.
You May Have Questions
Some of the many questions that may be in your mind are:
- What is a wrongful death?
- What types of claims are common in wrongful death cases?
- Who might be considered at fault?
- What are the two basic types of Maryland wrongful death cases?
- Who can recover damages in a wrongful death suit?
- Are there limits on damages?
- What is the statute of limitations?
Sometimes it is necessary to embark on a legal investigation in order to understand exactly what happened, as well as to honor the memory of the departed family member and secure the future of the remainder of the family.
Featured Article: What We Mean by Wrongful Death
Death is a part of life. We accept the fact that we sometimes lose people we love because we have no other choice. But when our loved ones are taken from us needlessly because someone else acts carelessly or recklessly, we have the right to make sure that person is held accountable. Wrongful death claims are legal actions taken by survivors of a deceased person to hold the responsible party accountable for the damages they have caused. These claims are different than pressing criminal charges, which is typically done by the state. Wrongful death claims are civil actions, which means they are filed by one or more people against another person or entity. Continue Reading
What Is a “Wrongful Death”?
The legal term “wrongful death” isn’t one you may be familiar with. When an unexpected death is “wrongful,” it means that the person’s death was caused by another party’s negligence or unlawful action. Parties can be individuals or business entities. Wrongful death can often be the basis for bringing a suit against the negligent individual or entity. Such suits can be filed on behalf of suffering family members who miss the company and support the deceased person would have given them.
Briefly, a wrongful death is one that should not have happened and that is due to another person or entity’s negligent or wrongful actions.
Examples of Wrongful Death Claims
Potential wrongful death cases can cover a wide variety of situations. Some examples of wrongful death are:
- At work, a machinery malfunction injures someone, causing their death.
- The wrong medication is prescribed, and the person who takes it dies.
- A defective product creates mortal injuries, killing the person.
- A person in a vehicular crash dies because of the wrongful actions of the other driver.
An Example of At-Fault Possibilities
In a wrongful death suit, there may be many defendants, depending upon the situation. For example, when a person died in a crash that involved both a driver under the influence and a problem with the roadway’s surface, the list of those who might be included in the suit could include:
- The driver under the influence
- The driver’s employer, if the driver was on the job at the time of the crash
- Whoever gave, sold, or served alcohol to the driver under the influence
- The owner of the business that sold the impaired driver the alcohol, if alcohol was sold
- The designer of the flawed roadway
- The builder of the flawed roadway
- The government agent that did not warn about the road hazard, if applicable.
Additionally, if any of the vehicles had faulty parts that contributed to the crash, then the list of entities that could be sued might include the distributor, installer, and manufacturer of the faulty part.
What Types of Wrongful Death Claims Can Be Pursued in Maryland?
Maryland’s laws address two types of claims when it comes to wrongful death:
- Survival actions. These legal actions are brought for the estate of the deceased. Survival actions compensate for expenses related to the wrongful death, such as final medical bills and funeral and burial expenses. Survival actions also pay the estate for any losses the deceased suffered, such as for pain and suffering from the final injury or illness.
- Wrongful death actions. Such actions are brought for the deceased’s primary survivors: spouse, parents, and children. These actions compensate the living, not the estate, for losses they have suffered connected to the wrongful death of their loved one. Compensated losses include lost companionship, lost support, and lost wages.
Who Can Recover Damages in a Wrongful Death Suit?
In Maryland, only primary beneficiaries or secondary beneficiaries can file for damages:
- Primary beneficiaries are the parents, surviving spouse, and children of the deceased. A primary beneficiary, if living, can file both a survival claim and a wrongful death claim. Any damages awarded go only to primary beneficiaries.
- Secondary beneficiaries are brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, and other related persons. A secondary beneficiary can file for damages only if no suit has been brought by a primary beneficiary. However, secondary beneficiaries can file on behalf of both primary and secondary beneficiaries if they choose.
If there are no primary or secondary beneficiaries, there is no wrongful death claim.
Are There Limits on Damages in Maryland?
In our state, you can sue for economic damages such as final medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and pensions, and the costs of bringing the suit, including the legal costs.
Maryland does impose limits on non-economic monetary damages, or what are commonly known as “pain and suffering” damages. As of 2017, the damages cap for a wrongful death case is $830,000, with the survival action damages capped at the same amount.
The wrongful death cap increases to $1,235,000 if there are two or more beneficiaries. Thus, the maximum total non-economic damages that can be awarded are currently $2,065,000. This cap will go up a small amount as of October 1, 2017.
What Challenges Do Wrongful Death Cases Face?
Wrongful death lawsuits can culminate in time-consuming and complex jury trials and criminal cases, but they can also often be settled with the help of a Maryland personal injury attorney. In any case, it is difficult to predict the amount of time or the costs associated with a wrongful death lawsuit, since each wrongful death case is unique. The issues might be extremely straightforward (a murder case that has resulted in a criminal conviction) or quite obscure (a complex medical malpractice case involving misdiagnosis, multiple treating facilities and voluminous medical records).
How Can a Wrongful Death Lawyer Help You?
If you’re interested in pursuing a wrongful death claim in relation to a relative who has passed away, your first step should be to seek an attorney with experience litigating wrongful death matters. The wrongful death statutes can be difficult to understand and interpret, so legal assistance is a must from the very beginning. Also, the sooner you start, the better, because Maryland’s wrongful death statute of limitations is three years.
The Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler specializes in the representation of personal injury victims, including the families of those who have lost their lives due to wrongful death. Contact us today for more information on whether you have a valid wrongful death lawsuit by using our online contact form, or call us at 1-410-625-4878.
Recent Wrongful Death Case Results
Case Type: Wrongful Death
Steve and co-counsel represented the family of a teenage boy who died when several school counselors at the Youth facility he attended forcibly restrained him in a prone position for several hours, causing him to suffocate. The case settled in mediation for 1.2 million dollars.