Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

A Maryland wrongful death action against law enforcement officers, a police department, and/or the local government generally involves different legal standards than a typical lawsuit.  In a July 1, 2020 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a wrongful death case in which the decedent had been shot and killed by police officers.  Following a trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them more than 38 million dollars in damages.  The circuit court, however, granted the defendants’ post-trial motion and entered judgment in their favor.  The plaintiffs filed the instant appeal.

In the case, two police officers attempted to serve an arrest warrant on the decedent at her apartment for failing to appear for a misdemeanor trial.  Upon entering the apartment, they saw the decedent sitting on the floor with a shotgun.  The officers retreated and called for backup, which led to a six-hour stand-off between the decedent and multiple law enforcement officers stationed outside her apartment.  A police officer testified that the decedent pointed her gun towards officers positioned by the doorway, and at that point, he fired a shot that killed the decedent.  On appeal, one of the plaintiffs’ arguments was that the circuit court erred in entering judgment for the defendants notwithstanding the jury verdict and vacating the damage award for the plaintiffs.

In determining whether a police officer has used excessive force in violation of the U.S. Constitution or Maryland Declaration of Rights, the fact-finder must look to whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them.  The use of deadly force by a police officer is reasonable only when the officer has probable cause to believe that a person poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others.  The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the officer exceeded the level of force that an objectively reasonable officer would use under the same or similar situation.

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In Maryland, surviving family members may have the right to take legal action against those responsible for the death of a family member.  These types of actions are known as Maryland wrongful death claims.  In a recent case, the wife and children of the decedent filed a lawsuit against the doctor who had treated him and the medical practice where he sought medical care.  At trial, the lower court dismissed the plaintiffs’ wrongful death claims.  In a June 22, 2020 opinion, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reviewed whether dismissal was appropriate.

The decedent had visited the defendant in February of 2013 because he had been experiencing dizziness and pain in his tongue and ear.  At that visit, the decedent received a tongue scraping biopsy.  Although the biopsy results indicated that the sample was benign, the report also stated that the biopsy was fragmented and small, which limited its findings.  When the decedent continued to experience pain over the following year, the defendant performed a second biopsy in July of 2014, which revealed that he had cancer.  The decedent underwent various treatments, but eventually succumbed to complications related to oral cancer.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were negligent by failing to properly diagnose the decedent’s cancer when he first sought treatment.  At trial, the plaintiffs called a medical expert who testified that if the decedent been diagnosed at the time of the first biopsy, the survival rate would have been between 70 and 80 percent, instead of 50 to 55 percent.  The defendants then argued that the plaintiffs had only established a loss of chance of survival, not that the defendants’ negligence caused the decedent’s death.  The trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims without a jury verdict.

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A Maryland wrongful death action may be brought by the decedent’s surviving family members against the party or parties who are liable for their death.  In a June 16, 2020 wrongful death case, the decedent died at the age of 21 as a result of cardiac arrest following an acute asthma attack.  His parents and estate filed suit, asserting wrongful death and related claims against the county, as well as the paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT) who assisted him.  The case came before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland after the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Shortly before his death, the decedent began experiencing difficulty breathing while at a friend’s house.  Responding to the 911 call for the decedent, the emergency medical service providers arrived on the scene and transported the decedent to the hospital, where he later died.  The decedent’s survivors brought their wrongful death claim based on the defendants’ timing and propriety of their response.  The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on grounds of immunity, which the circuit court granted.  The appeal followed.

In Maryland, there are two laws that may provide a basis for immunity for paramedics and EMTs.  Under the Good Samaritan Act, a person is not liable for any act or omission while giving medical care if they were not grossly negligent, the medical assistance was free, and it was provided either at the scene of the emergency, or through communications with someone providing emergency assistance.  Under the Fire & Rescue Companies Act, the employees of a rescue company are immune from civil liability for any act or omission in the course of performing their duties.

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Failure to comply with certain procedural rules may be detrimental to a Maryland wrongful death action, as illustrated in a March 10, 2020 case.  Following the fatal car accident of his daughter, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death suit against the mayor and city council, alleging faulty construction and maintenance of the road on which the accident occurred.  However, the plaintiff had failed to provide timely notice of his claim within the required deadline.  As a result, the lower court granted summary judgment in favor the City.  The plaintiff subsequently appealed the matter to the Court of Special Appeals.

Under Maryland law, an action for damages against a local government or its employees requires that notice of the claim be given within 180 days after the injury.  However, the plaintiff’s failure to provide proper notice to the appropriate governmental body may be overcome by a showing of good cause, as long as the defendant was not prejudiced as a result of the lack of notice.

The general standard used to determine “good cause” is whether the plaintiff prosecuted his claim with the degree of diligence that an ordinarily prudent person would have exercised under the same circumstances.  When deciding whether that standard has been met, Maryland courts typically consider five factors: (1) excusable neglect or mistake, as determined by the reasonably prudent person standard, (2) serious physical, mental injury, and/or location out-of-state, (3) the inability to retain counsel in cases involving complex litigation, (4) ignorance of the statutory notice requirement, or (5) misleading representations made by representative of the local government.

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In Maryland, family members may bring a wrongful death action against a defendant whose negligence caused the death of their loved one.  The Maryland wrongful death statute allows the plaintiffs to recover economic and non-economic monetary damages resulting from their loss.  In a November 1, 2019 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed the jury’s award of damages to a plaintiff who had prevailed in her wrongful death action against the defendant.

The case arose from the death of the plaintiff’s daughter’s in 2013.  The plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against the medical providers who treated her daughter, including the defendant.  Following a trial, the jury found the defendant liable for the wrongful death of the plaintiff’s twenty-two-year-old daughter.  The jury awarded the plaintiff $500,000 in non-economic damages and $500,000 in economic damages for the loss of her daughter’s services.  The defendant subsequently appealed the jury’s award of economic damages.

The specific issue on appeal was whether the plaintiff had sufficiently established her damages claim for the loss of her daughter’s household services.  The court confirmed that in a Maryland wrongful death action, a covered beneficiary may recover for both economic and non-economic damages.  After reviewing Maryland case law and other legal authority, the Court of Special Appeals went on to present a three-part rule for determining when a beneficiary in a wrongful death action may recover economic damages for the loss of household services.

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Negligent nursing home care may cause serious injuries or even death, as well as emotional pain for the victim’s family.  Many nursing care facilities in Maryland require patients to execute agreements upon admittance in which they agree to arbitrate any future legal claims against the facility. In a June 27, 2019 Maryland wrongful death case, the validity of such an arbitration agreement was decided by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The plaintiff’s father and the decedent in the case had resided at the defendant’s nursing care facility before his death.  The day before her father was admitted to the facility, the plaintiff executed an admission contract on his behalf.  The contract required that all disputes arising out of a patient’s stay at the facility be submitted to mediation, and if not resolved through mediation, be submitted to an arbitration process.

Following her father’s death, the plaintiff filed a negligence suit against the defendants in circuit court, alleging that while in the care of the defendant’s facility, her father developed serious health concerns, including bed sores and gangrene, as a result of inadequate medical care.  The plaintiff further alleged that these conditions were caused by the defendant’s negligence, and that the defendant was responsible for causing her father’s death.  After the lower court granted the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, the plaintiff filed an appeal.

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Some personal injuries affecting a certain group of people are covered by state or federal legislation, such as those injured in the course of their employment.  If these injuries overlap with common law negligence, a Maryland personal injury attorney can assist you in pursuing the appropriate action in court.  In an August 28, 2019 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether a personal injury action was properly brought under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA).

The plaintiff in the case was a former railroad employee who filed a lawsuit against his employer, a transportation company, along with several other defendants, seeking damages under FELA.  The plaintiff alleged that he was exposed to asbestos during his employment with the transportation company, and that the asbestos exposure caused him to develop malignant mesothelioma.  The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff’s claim was barred because the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) provided his exclusive remedy for employment-related claims.  After the lower court granted the motion and dismissed the claims, the plaintiff filed an appeal.

FELA provides a tort remedy for railroad employees who are injured in the course of their employment caused by the negligence of the employer.  The law was enacted in 1906, at a time when few states had workers’ compensation laws, and although FELA has characteristics of both workers’ compensation law and common law tort of negligence, it is neither.

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In some Maryland car accident cases, the actions of multiple drivers may be the causes of the collision.  Proving a defendant’s liability in these injury cases can be difficult, and the plaintiff may not be able to recover damages in a Maryland personal injury lawsuit if her own negligence was a proximate cause of the accident.  In a July 9, 2019 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland grappled with a tragic wrongful death case brought by the family of a young driver who killed in a fatal car accident.

The victim in the case was driving on her learner’s permit.  Traveling westward on a side road, the victim reached a stop sign at the intersection of a four-lane highway.  The defendant was driving a truck northbound on the highway, traveling at 11 miles over the speed limit.  As the victim entered the intersection, the defendant’s truck collided with her vehicle.  Following the fatal accident, the victim’s family filed a negligence suit against the truck driver and his employer.

The issue on appeal was whether or not the victim was contributorily negligent in causing the accident, as she was required to yield the right-of-way to vehicles traveling on the highway.  In Maryland, the Boulevard Rule requires the driver of a car approaching an intersection from a road controlled by a stop sign to stop and yield the right of way to cars traveling on the main road.  Nevertheless, a failure to yield will not necessarily relieve the driver on the main road of liability.  If the negligence of the highway driver was the proximate cause of an accident, they may be held liable, despite the other driver’s failure to yield the right-of-way.

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Insurance coverage and damage amounts are often contested issues between car accident victims and their motor vehicle insurers.  As illustrated in a June 6, 2019 Maryland wrongful death case, the procedural aspects of a claim may be crucial for the surviving family members to recover the full amount of damages sought.

The case arose out of a car accident involving the plaintiff, which resulted in the death of the other driver.  At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was driving a car owned by another individual.  A year after the accident, no survival or wrongful death claims had been filed by the driver’s survivors.  The plaintiff, the plaintiff’s insurance company, and the car owner’s insurance company subsequently filed a Complaint for Interpleader, in which they conceded liability for the other driver’s death to his survivors.

A hearing was held on the matter, at which counsel for the survivors informed the trial court that he wished to work with the potential beneficiaries to resolve the apportionment of the policy proceeds without further litigation.  The trial court then signed two proposed orders provided by the plaintiffs, which allowed each insurer to deposit an amount totaling $600,000 into an account for apportionment among the beneficiaries after they negotiated their respective interests.

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In many situations, the victims of negligence may recover their damages by filing a Maryland legal claim against those responsible.  One of the few exceptions concerns governmental immunity.  In a February 22, 2019 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals examined whether a local county could be sued under the circumstances presented in a Maryland wrongful death case.

In the summer of 2016, a 911 call center experienced a service outage in the county that lasted approximately one hour and forty-five minutes.  During the outage, the decedent suffered a medical emergency.  The plaintiffs alleged that they and other friends and family had called 911 repeatedly, for over an hour, but were unable to get through.  Eventually they were connected with emergency services and rescue personal subsequently responded to the scene.  Tragically, the decedent could not be revived, and he passed away.

In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed that the county was negligent in maintaining the air conditioning unit that had failed and caused the 911 service outage, which in turn, allegedly caused the decedent’s death.  The circuit court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, ruling that the county was immune from suit and that the county officials, named as individual defendants, did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs or the decedent.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the higher court.

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