Wrongful death lawsuits in Maryland are subject to a 3-year statute of limitations that runs from the date of death. In this post, we will look at wrongful death claims and this 3-year limitation deadline in more detail.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Maryland
The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek compensation for the surviving family members who have suffered a loss as a result of the death of their loved one. This compensation can come in many forms, including monetary damages, reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses, and compensation for loss of companionship, support, and other damages.
In order to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Maryland, there are several requirements that must be met. First, the person who has died must have been a resident of Maryland or have died within the state. Second, there must be surviving family members who have suffered a loss as a result of the death. Third, the death must have been caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another person or entity.
There are a variety of circumstances that may give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit in Maryland. Some of the most common include:
- Medical Malpractice: If a healthcare provider fails to provide proper medical care and that failure leads to the death of a patient, the provider may be held responsible for wrongful death.
- Automobile Accidents: If a driver is found to have been reckless or negligent and that reckless or negligent behavior led to the death of another person, the driver may be held responsible for wrongful death.
- Workplace Accidents: If an employer fails to provide a safe work environment and that failure leads to the death of an employee, the employer may be held responsible for wrongful death.
- Products Liability: If a product is defectively designed or manufactured and that defect leads to the death of a user, the manufacturer or seller of the product may be held responsible for wrongful death.
In order to succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit in Maryland, the plaintiffs must prove several elements. First, the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant had a legal duty to take reasonable care to prevent the death of the deceased. Second, the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant breached that duty through their actions or lack of action. Third, the plaintiffs must prove that the breach of duty was the direct cause of the death of the deceased. Finally, the plaintiffs must prove that they have suffered a loss as a result of the death.
Maryland Wrongful Death Statute
As explained in more detail below, Maryland wrongful death claims are unique because wrongful death is a statutory tort as opposed to a common law tort. Most tort law, such as negligence, is not written down in a statute but rather derived from legal precedents and judicial decisions.
Originally, common law did not recognize a cause of action for wrongful death. This created an odd situation where tortfeasors were actually better off if they killed someone instead of just injuring them. To correct this, the Maryland legislature enacted a wrongful death statute.
Maryland’s wrongful death statute (Md. Ann. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-904) states that when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful conduct of another party, the decedent’s surviving family members can sue that party for wrongful death and recover damages. Maryland’s wrongful death statute creates the right to sue and identifies who has the right to sue.
3-Year Deadline on Maryland Wrongful Lawsuits
A statute of limitations is a legal deadline or time limit for a prospective plaintiff to bring a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is not filed within the deadline established by the statute of limitations, the claim will be time-barred and the plaintiff will lose their right to sue forever.
Maryland has a general statute of limitations that applies to all tort claims such as negligence. This is set forth at § 3-904 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article in the Maryland Code. Maryland’s general statute of limitations is 3-years from the date that the claim “accrues.” The date when the claim “accrues” can be very complicated but it is generally when the plaintiffs knows or reasonably should know that they have grounds for a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits in Maryland is 3-years. Md. Ann. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-904(g)(1). This is different from the general 3-year statute of limitations that applies to all tort claims and calculating the 3-year deadline is much simpler. The 3-year year deadline to file a wrongful death case in Maryland begins to run on the “date of death.” This very simply means that if a wrongful death case is not filed within 3 years after the day that the decedent died (per the death certificate) the claim will be time-barred.
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Wrongful Death Can Extend the General Statute of Limitations Period
Family members can bring a wrongful death lawsuit within 3-years of the date of death even if the decedent’s right to sue would have been time-barred under the general statute of limitations. This means that wrongful death claims can sometimes revive expired claims.
For example, assume that John’s doctor negligently fails to diagnose him with cancer. John has a claim for medical malpractice based on failure to diagnose and let’s say that this claim “accrued” on January 1, 2023. John does not file a medical malpractice lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires on January 1, 2026.
John dies from his cancer three years later on January 1, 2024. John’s family members now have a claim for wrongful death against the doctor who failed to diagnose his cancer. They have 3-years from the date of death to bring the lawsuit so the deadline will be January 1, 2027.
Even though John’s malpractice claim was time-barred, his death creates a new claim for wrongful death and resets the limitation period.
Statute of Repose for Maryland Medical Malpractice
But there is also a statute of repose. The statute of repose is a legal time limit that restricts the amount of time that an individual has to bring a lawsuit after an injury or loss has occurred. In Maryland, the statute of repose for medical malpractice lawsuits is five years from the date of the alleged act of medical malpractice.
This means that if an individual in Maryland wants to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland, they must do so within five years from the date of the alleged act of medical malpractice. After five years, the individual will be barred from bringing a lawsuit, even if they did not know about the injury or loss until after the five-year period had passed.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Maryland
Wrongful death lawsuits are a type of legal action that is brought against an individual or entity whose actions or lack of action caused the death of another person. In Maryland, these types of lawsuits are governed by the Maryland Code, Title 3, Subtitle 9, which outlines the specific requirements and procedures that must be followed in order to bring a successful wrongful death claim.
When a wrongful death lawsuit is brought in Maryland, the compensation that can be sought by the plaintiffs will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. However, some of the most common types of compensation that may be sought include:
- Economic Damages: This type of compensation includes monetary damages that are intended to compensate the family members for the financial losses they have suffered as a result of the death, such as lost wages, benefits, and medical expenses.
- Non-Economic Damages: This type of compensation includes monetary damages that are intended to compensate the family members for the non-financial losses they have suffered as a result of the death, such as loss of companionship, support, and other damages.
- Funeral and Burial Expenses: This type of compensation includes reimbursement for the expenses that were incurred in order to properly bury the deceased.
Damage Cap in Maryland Wrongful Death Cases
Maryland law imposes a cap on the maximum amount of certain damages that can be recovered in wrongful death cases. The wrongful death damage cap only applies to non-economic damage for things such as pain & suffering. The cap does not apply to lost income, medical expenses and other economic damages. The cap adjusts upward each year.
In 2023, the damage cap on pain and suffering in Maryland wrongful death lawsuit is $2.3 million (this includes a survival action). That cap is set to increase October 1, 2023. For wrongful death cases based on medical malpractice the cap on non-economic damages is $$1,093,750.
FAQs Maryland Wrongful Death Deadlines
What is the deadline for a wrongful death lawsuit in Maryland?
In Maryland, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within 3-years of the date that the person died otherwise they will be time-barred.
How can bring a wrongful death suit in Maryland?
Under Maryland law, only immediate family members of the decedent have legal standing to be plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit. This includes spouses, children, and parents.
What is the cap on damages in Maryland wrongful death cases?
The Maryland damage cap on non-economic damages (pain & suffering) in a wrongful death case in 2023 is $2.3 million.