Injuries that are caused by the careless actions of more than one person may give rise to legal recourse against multiple defendants. In a March 17, 2017 wrongful death decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the county was liable for the death of a two-year old child in foster care. The plaintiff filed the appeal after the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the county.
In 2007, as a result of the county’s determination that the child was in need of assistance, the circuit court ordered that he be placed in a foster home. At the foster home, the child’s room had a window covered with venetian blinds, which were controlled by two single-tassel cords. Although the blind cords were usually hung on a nail at the top of the window, the child became entangled in the blind cords and subsequently died from strangulation in 2009. The biological mother of the child filed a wrongful death action against the county for failing to properly supervise and protect the child. The circuit court ruled that the facts did not give rise to a common law or statutory duty that the county owed to the child.
In Maryland, a negligence action requires a plaintiff to establish four elements: a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach and the harm suffered, and damages. Generally, government entities do not owe a tort duty to the world at-large. A government entity can be liable in tort, however, if it takes an affirmative step to create a duty. That duty can be created in two ways: (1) legally, by adopting a statute; or (2) factually, by creating a special relationship.