Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Bring Wrongful Death Suit Based on Same Conduct as Prior Personal Injury Case

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently filed an unreported opinion in the case of McQuitty v. Spangler, Md. Ct. Sp. App. (2015), in which they decided the issue of whether the decedent’s survivors could bring a wrongful death action for the same conduct as the underlying personal injury action, after the decedent won the personal injury action.

The decedent was born in 1995 with severe cerebral palsy. In 2001, the parents of the decedent brought a personal injury action against the doctors on his behalf, alleging medical malpractice and breach of informed consent. After a jury trial, the decedent received a judgment in his favor in 2006, which was affirmed after several rounds of appeal. The decedent died in 2009, and his estate recovered money damages from the defendants in satisfaction of the judgment in March 2012.

On May 17, 2012, the decedent’s survivors brought a wrongful death action against the same parties, based on the same conduct that brought about the medical malpractice suit. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the principle of res judicata barred the survivors from bringing essentially the same suit against them. The circuit court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the survivors appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act allows an action to be maintained against a person whose wrongful act causes the death of another, if the decedent could have maintained an action and recovered damages if he had not died. Maryland adopts the position that a wrongful death claim is independent of the decedent’s personal injury claim and creates a new cause of action for which the decedent could not recover. Essentially, the statute allows the decedent’s survivors to recover damages for their own loss accruing from the decedent’s death. Since a personal injury action and wrongful death claim are based on the same wrongful conduct, in some instances, a wrongful death claim can be barred if the personal injury action would not be valid, such as in cases of contributory negligence, assumption of risk, a release of liability agreement, or certain other defenses.

In McQuitty, however, the Court of Special Appeals held that a successful judgment in favor of a decedent in a personal injury action is not a bar to a wrongful death claim brought by the survivors. The court reasoned that, since a wrongful death claim requires that a decedent have had a viable personal injury claim against the decedent, a favorable judgment on the underlying claim is “the ultimate validation of the claim.” The court also found that res judicata did not bar the wrongful death action because it only applies to actions between the same plaintiffs and defendants. Here, although the survivors sued the same defendants in both cases, the plaintiffs were different. In the wrongful death action, the survivors are suing in their own right for their own injuries, while in the personal injury action, they sued on behalf of the decedent. The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiffs would recover twice for the same injuries, holding that the potential overlap in damages should not bar wrongful death actions filed subsequently to recovery in a personal injury case.

The personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. assist Maryland victims of car collisions, medical malpractice, and other accidents pursue compensation against those responsible. To discuss your claim with our experienced attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 24, 2015

Maryland Court Allows Habit Evidence of Doctor in Medical Malpractice Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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