Wrongful Death in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
When someone is injured due to the misconduct of another, a personal injury claim arises. But what happens if the victim dies because of his injuries? After all, a deceased person can hardly file a lawsuit. The answer is found in the form of survival and wrongful death claims. A wrongful death claim is a claim filed relatives of the victim for their losses arising from the death of their loved one – loss of financial or emotional support, for example.
A survival claim, often filed together with a wrongful death claim, is a claim by the victim’s probate estate on behalf of the deceased victim and the estate itself: the victim’s pain and suffering, medical expenses, expenses paid by the estate such as funeral and burial expenses, etc.
Who files a wrongful death lawsuit?
In Maryland, pursuant to Section 3-904(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, preference is given to “primary beneficiaries”: the surviving spouse, parents and children of the deceased. If there are no persons who qualify under Section 3-904(a), then Section 3-904(b) provides that a wrongful death claim may be pursued by any person related to the deceased by blood or marriage who was substantially dependent upon the deceased.
In Washington, D.C., a wrongful death claim may only be brought by the “personal representative” of the deceased. A personal representative is limited to one who has been officially appointed as an executor or administrator. A survival claim may be brought by a “legal representative” of the deceased.
In Maryland, wrongful death damages are not limited or restricted by the "pecuniary loss" or "pecuniary benefit" rule, but may include damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education where applicable for the death of a spouse, minor child, a parent of a minor child, or an unmarried child if the unmarried minor child is 21 years old or younger or a parent contributed 50% or more of the child's support within the 12-month period immediately before the date of death of the child.
For the death of a child, who is not described above, or a parent of a child, who is not a minor child, the damages awarded are not limited or restricted by the “pecuniary loss” or “pecuniary benefit” rule but may include damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, care, attention, advice, counsel, training, education, or guidance where applicable.
In Washington, D.C., a wrongful death/survival action can recover compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Medical bills for the victim;
- Probable earnings lost by the deceased from the time of death until retirement; and
- Loss of care, companionship, and other services that would otherwise have been provided to surviving family members but for the victim’s untimely death.
Distribution of Compensation
In a wrongful death action, damages may be awarded to the beneficiaries proportioned to the injury resulting from the wrongful death. Subject to Section 11-108(d)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, the amount recovered shall be divided among the beneficiaries in shares directed by the verdict.
In D.C., damages are paid to the victim’s probate estate, which distributes them to survivors based on their losses. If the victim dies without a will, however, the estate will distribute the assets to relatives under intestate succession law (generally, the closer the relationship to the victim the higher the priority and the greater the share of the estate).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can a wrongful death claim be settled out of court?
Yes, and most of them are. Opposing parties are free to negotiate a settlement agreement at any time up until the moment a court decision is announced. In fact, over 90 percent of all wrongful death claims are ultimately settled out of court. Certain types of wrongful death claims, such as medical malpractice claims, can be difficult to settle out of court, however.
Is there a cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded?
Maryland applies a cap only on non-economic damages awarded. In a wrongful death case, this includes awards for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, care, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education. There is separate application of the cap and limit for (i) claims from same act or omission; (ii) wrongful death claims with two or more beneficiaries; and (iii) combination of wrongful death and survival claims. The limit for how much a single claimant can receive increases by $15,000 each year, which in turn increases the other cap. In 2018, for example, they rose to (i) $860,000, (ii) $1,290,000, and (iii) $2,150,000, respectively. D.C., by contrast, applies no strict numerical limit on non-economic damages.
What is the statute of limitations deadline for a wrongful death claim?
The statute of limitations sets the deadline by which a plaintiff must properly file an initial complaint with a court over a personal injury claim. Miss the deadline and your claim dies immediately unless an exception applies. In wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations clock starts running on the day the victim dies – not the day the accident occurred. In Maryland, you have three years to file a lawsuit, while in D.C. you have only two years to file.
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Although we are a small firm, we enjoy rich experience in handling complex cases. We pride ourselves in providing a hands-on approach where our clients have direct interaction with their lawyer. Since we have represented both plaintiffs and defendants, we understand the strategies that the other side will be using from personal experience.
Set up an appointment for a consultation by contacting us online or calling (410) 721-1979. At Henderson Law, we represent clients throughout Maryland, including Baltimore and Annapolis as well as Washington D.C.