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
When a person dies, Maryland law allows their surviving immediate family members to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against any person or entity who can be held legally accountable for causing that death. Legal accountability for wrongful death can be based on negligent or reckless conduct.
For example, let’s say John runs a red light and kills pedestrian Jane as she is walking through a crosswalk. John is legally accountable for Jane’s death because his act of running the red light was negligent. Jane’s family members can sue John for wrongful death.
Wrongful death lawsuits can also be based on intentional criminal conduct such as murder or manslaughter. For example, if John intentionally shoots and kills Jane, her family could bring a wrongful death claim against him. John does not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime in order to be held liable for wrongful death. O.J. Simpson was famously held liable in a civil wrongful death action for intentionally killing Ron Goldman and his ex-wife even after being acquitted in his criminal murder case.
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, 2019. John does not file a medical malpractice lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires on January 1, 2022.
John dies from his cancer three years later on January 1, 2022. 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, 2025.
Even though John’s malpractice claim was time-barred, his death creates a new claim for wrongful death and resets the limitation period.
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.
Going into 2022, the damage cap on pain & suffering in Maryland wrongful death lawsuit is $2,280,000. That cap is set to increase October 1, 2022. For wrongful death cases based on medical malpractice the cap on non-economic damages is $1,075,000.
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 2022 is $2,280,000.