Each state has its own laws governing wrongful death lawsuits. In this article, we'll look at some key portions of Maryland's wrongful death laws. We'll start with how Maryland defines wrongful death and who may bring this kind of claim to court in the state. Then, we'll talk about the damages available in a successful wrongful death case and the time limits for getting the lawsuit started in court.
Maryland Wrongful Death Claims
Maryland wrongful death claims are intended to compensate the estate and the surviving immediate family members of a deceased person when an untimely death is caused by the negligence of another person or company.
Some wrongful death plaintiffs find it helpful to think of a wrongful death case as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer available to bring his or her own claim to court. Instead, the family members of the deceased person must file a wrongful death claim in court in order to hold the defendant accountable and get compensation for their own losses and the losses of the estate.
Maryland typically divides wrongful death claims into two categories: survival actions and wrongful death actions.
- Survival actions are actions brought on behalf of the estate. They compensate the estate for losses it paid -- such as funeral, burial, and medical expenses -- related to the death. They also compensate the estate for losses the deceased person suffered directly, such as pain and suffering related to the final illness or injury.
- Wrongful death actions are actions brought on behalf of the survivors of the deceased person: the spouse, parents, and/or children. These actions are intended to compensate the surviving family members for the losses suffered in connection with their loved one's untimely death, like lost wages, lost companionship, and lost support.
Who May File a Maryland Wrongful Death Claim?
Maryland has very specific rules regarding who may file a wrongful death claim or a survival action. Generally speaking, whether a certain person may file a claim depends on whether they are classified as a "primary" or "secondary" beneficiary.
- Primary beneficiaries include the surviving spouse, parents, and children of the deceased person. If a primary beneficiary is alive, he or she may file a wrongful death claim, a survival claim, or both. If a primary beneficiary brings either of these claims, any damages awarded in the claim are awarded solely to the primary beneficiaries.
- Secondary beneficiaries include the surviving siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, and other relatives. If there are no primary beneficiaries or no primary beneficiary is willing to bring either type of claim to court, a secondary beneficiary may file on behalf of both the primary and secondary beneficiaries.
Typically, the primary beneficiaries will file a wrongful death claim seeking damages for their own losses, while either a primary or secondary beneficiary will file a survival action seeking damages on behalf of the estate.
Damages in a Maryland Wrongful Death Case
In a Maryland wrongful death claim, losses are expressed in terms of money damages. The specific types and amounts of damages available depend on whether the claim brought is a survival claim or a wrongful death claim.
Damages available in a survival claim are damages suffered by the estate as a result of the untimely death. They include funeral and burial expenses, medical bills for the deceased person's final illness or injury, property damage costs, and damages for the deceased person's pain and suffering.
Damages available in a wrongful death claim are damages suffered by the deceased person's surviving family members as a result of the untimely death. They include lost wages and other compensation, as well as the loss of the deceased person's care, companionship, and guidance.
Maryland "caps," or limits" non-economic damages in wrongful death claims. Non-economic damages are those that cannot be measured in terms of bills or receipts: losses like pain and suffering and loss of companionship. As of October 2014, Maryland caps non-economic damages in wrongful death cases at $2 million.
Learn more about Damages in a Wrongful Death Case.
Time Limits on Filing Maryland Wrongful Death Claims
Maryland's statute of limitations sets a deadline on the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit in the state. These claims must typically be filed within three years of the date of the deceased person's death. Claims filed after this three-year deadline are typically thrown out by the court without a hearing.