Maryland Plaintiffs May Bring Wrongful Death Action Despite Successful Personal Injury Claim of Decedent

In a newly issued decision, the Court of Appeals of Maryland settled the question of whether surviving family members can bring a wrongful death action based on the same alleged conduct as a personal injury claim won by the decedent before his death. In Spangler v. McQuitty (Md. July 12, 2016), the court ultimately held that the decedent’s beneficiaries are not barred from filing a subsequent wrongful death action, despite a judgment on the merits in the decedent’s personal injury claim. The court further held that when only one joint defendant is released from liability by the injured person, the other defendants are not also discharged. Accordingly, such a release does not preclude a wrongful death action brought by the survivors against other defendants that were not parties to the release.

In Spangler, the mother suffered a placental abruption, causing severe injuries to her child during his birth as well as cerebral palsy. The parents of the minor child sued their obstetrician and medical practice group for failing to secure the mother’s informed consent for treatment. Several of the defendants settled with the plaintiffs before trial. After trial, the jury awarded the child approximately $13 million in damages, including future medical expenses. Although the verdict was upheld, the jury award was ultimately reduced after subsequent appeals.

During the appeal litigation of his personal injury claim, the child died. His parents filed a wrongful death action against the defendants under the Maryland wrongful death statute, based on the same underlying facts as the personal injury action regarding the obstetrician’s failure to obtain informed consent. The circuit court dismissed the case, concluding that it was precluded by the previous judgment. That decision was reversed by the Court of Special Appeals, and the case subsequently came before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The primary issue before the Court of Appeals was whether the alleged conduct for a wrongful death action is derivative or independent of a decedent’s prior personal injury claim. In analyzing the law, the court concluded that Maryland’s wrongful death statute provides a new and independent cause of action, which does not preclude a subsequent action brought by a decedent’s beneficiaries.

The court also addressed whether a settlement agreement signed by the parties releasing one of the doctors from liability precluded a wrongful death action against the other defendants. Although historically the release of one joint tort-feasor operated to release all of the tort-feasors, Maryland statutes altered the common law. As a result, a release does not discharge the others unless specifically provided, but it can reduce the claim against them in the amount of consideration paid. In Spangler, the court found that the release did not apply to the other defendants, since they were not clearly defined in the agreement. Accordingly, the ruling in favor of the plaintiffs was upheld.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of negligence or medical malpractice, an experienced personal injury attorney can inform you of your legal options against the wrongful parties. At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A., our medical malpractice lawyers represent individuals in a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases and can provide trusted legal advice. To discuss your injury claim with a dedicated attorney, contact Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Bring Wrongful Death Suit Based on Same Conduct as Prior Personal Injury Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 21, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Upholds Majority of Million-Dollar Jury Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published December 9, 2015

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