Not often, but at least a few times a year, our law firm gets a wrongful death case in Maryland where, regardless of the facts, there is no claim. In this case, the victim, who may be loved by family and friends, has no wrongful death claim because the victim has no spouse, children, or living parents.
Noneconomic and economic measures in Maryland do not provide money damages for loss of life of the victim on their own behalf. The lack of joy that comes with being alive and missing out on a life goes uncompensated. So if you have no spouse, dependents, or children and are negligently killed by another person and you die instantly, there is no recourse in Maryland law for a wrongful death claim or any other meaningful claim outside of your funeral expenses.
Accordingly, a doctor can see that a patient has no primary or secondary wrongful death beneficiaries and know that there is no possibility of a wrongful death medical malpractice claim.
Do I think this happens where doctors feel free to take a risk with a patient because the patient’s death by definition could not bring about a wrongful death claim? No, I really don’t. But the whole idea that you could recklessly kill someone with no consequences of any kind is a bad thing.
The answer? Change the law to have an entirely new damage claim in Maryland for loss of the enjoyment of life for the victim? Whatever you may think of the idea, there is absolutely no inertia to change the current state of the law.
So what could we do that is more practical to solve the problem? I think the answer is simple. Allow siblings, grandchildren and other clearly defined relatives into a third contingency tier of wrongful death beneficiaries. It would open up only a few new claims but we could all know that there will be accountability when someone is killed by someone else negligence. I think that this would be justice.
Will any of this happen? No. Because no one is fighting for such a small group of unknown people in the Maryland legislature. Anything that could even potentially open up new claims – particularly wrongful death medical malpractice claims – is going to get shot down in this climate. But it would be the right and fair thing to do.