Maryland Court Decides Whether County Owes Duty to Foster Child in Wrongful Death Action

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.

On appeal, the plaintiff first argued that a special relationship existed between the county and the child because the county placed him in foster care.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument, pointing to a prior Maryland case that held child welfare services do not create a special relationship to any particular individual.  Next, the plaintiff contended that a duty arose out of the county’s inspection of the child’s foster care home.  The appeals court noted that although the county adopted detailed regulations regarding inspection criteria, neither the statute nor the regulations required that the investigation include an inspection for window blinds or a general inspection for safety.  Accordingly, the court found that nothing about the inspection regime created a tort duty.

The plaintiff’s final argument concerned a law that was adopted by the Maryland General Assembly after and in light of her child’s death.  The law required that foster homes must have cordless blinds after its effective date.  In affirming the lower court’s decision, the appeals court explained that the child’s death occurred prior to the effective date of the law, the law did not create a tort duty, and it was a remedial measure that would not be admissible in court.

The personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can represent Maryland plaintiffs in a wide range of negligence and medical malpractice actions.  To discuss your case with one of our experienced injury lawyers, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Plaintiffs May Bring Wrongful Death Action Despite Successful Personal Injury Claim of Decedent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 15, 2016

Maryland Plaintiff Wins on Appeal in Slip and Fall Case Against Convenience Store, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 5, 2016

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