Maryland Appeals Court Addresses Notice Requirements in Wrongful Death Case

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.

When the issue initially arose in circuit court, the judge first assigned to the case had found good cause shown by the plaintiff.  A second judge, when ruling on the defendant’s subsequent motion for summary judgment, revisited the issue of notice and good cause.  The second judge concluded that there was no basis for excusing the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the notice requirement and granted summary judgment as a result.  In reaching its decision, the judge primarily focused on the plaintiff’s delay in consulting with an attorney.

On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals found that the analysis of the second judge was insufficient and amounted to an abuse of discretion.  In light of the second judge’s stated lack of familiarity with the prior decision, the brevity of his analysis, and the lack of any discussion of mitigating factors, the appeals court explained that it was unsatisfied that the lower court had given due consideration to facts that may have supported a finding of good cause.  The court therefore vacated the decision and remanded the case back to the circuit court for additional proceedings.

If you have been injured as a result of careless driving or other negligent acts, you may be able to recover damages for medical expenses and other losses.  At Foran & Foran, our personal injury lawyers handle a wide-range of negligence claims, including wrongful death suits and medical malpractice actions.  To schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or submit our contact form online.

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