Family of Maryland State Prisoner Wins Wrongful Death Case, Appeals Damages Cap

Maryland law generally allows victims of negligence to pursue compensation from those responsible.  In some cases, however, remedies may be limited or damages capped.  In an April 12, 2018 Maryland wrongful death case, the Court of Appeals considered whether a multi-million dollar jury verdict should be reduced, and which defendants should be responsible for the judgment.

The case arose out of the murder of a Maryland state prisoner by another prisoner while they were both in State custody.  The parents of the victim brought suit against the State of Maryland and several of the correctional officers supervising the prisoners.

After a trial, the jury returned a verdict against the State based on its finding that certain correctional officers were negligent, and a verdict against one of the defendants who was found grossly negligent.  In total, the jury awarded approximately $18.5 million in noneconomic damages to the plaintiffs.  However, the trial court reduced the awards due to Maryland’s statutory caps, and it also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to include the State in the judgment against the one defendant found grossly negligent.  These decisions were appealed and became the major issues in the Court of Appeals case.

For all personal injury and wrongful death actions, the Maryland Legislature has also established a cap on noneconomic damages.  Noneconomic damages include, for example, damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship or consortium.  The cap is calculated according to a statutory formula based on when the cause of action arose and the number of claimants.

In determining whether the statutory cap applied to reduce the noneconomic damages in the case, the court examined the language of the law.  The court concluded that the statute applied to judgments arising from intentional actions or gross negligence, as well as judgments against the State and its employees.  As a result, the court affirmed the reduction of noneconomic damages in accordance with the statutory caps.

The court went on to find that the State did not waive its sovereign immunity as to a tort claim by providing legal representation to its employees.  Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the State and its agencies may not be sued for a money judgment unless the Legislature has waived the State’s immunity.  Under the Maryland Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”), the General Assembly has done so with respect to the negligent actions or omissions of State employees within the scope of their public duties.  With respect to the case at issue, the waiver of sovereign immunity has two important conditions:  (1) the waiver does not extend to actions or omissions of State employees that are grossly negligent; and (2) a judgment against the State is capped at an amount set by statute.  Accordingly, the State was properly excluded from the judgment against the correctional officer found grossly negligent.

The Maryland personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. are dedicated to helping victims and their families pursue legal remedies against negligent parties.  We have represented plaintiffs in medical malpractice actions, premises liability claims, wrongful death lawsuits, and many other cases arising out of negligence.  Call today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Rules for Plaintiff in Wrongful Death Appeal Regarding Venue, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published April 25, 2017

Maryland Plaintiff Wins Case Against County, Police Department After Violent Arrest, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published March 22, 2018

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