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Personal injury verdict may not prevent wrongful death suit

At Cohen, Snyder, Eisenberg & Katzenberg, P.A., we represent people in Maryland injured by the negligent, reckless or aggressive actions of others in personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits. We also help the surviving relatives of victims who die because of these kinds of injuries bring wrongful death claims

Wrongful death an independent, new claim 

Last year, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, our state’s highest court, handed down an important opinion about whether surviving loved ones can file a wrongful death lawsuit after their family member dies if the victim had already recovered damages in a personal injury suit during his or her lifetime for the same injury.

 

The court held that the personal injury judgment does not necessarily preclude the later wrongful death suit, emphasizing that in Maryland, the wrongful death claim is considered an independent and new cause of action that is not normally prevented by the earlier personal injury judgment (with some exception). 

The medical malpractice lawsuit 

The case was Spangler v. McQuitty, a complex case that grew out of a medical malpractice lawsuit for a birth injury. The parents filed suit against the obstetrician, his medical practice (and others who settled) for not getting proper informed consent from the mother for the treatment given, allegedly resulting in a condition that caused severe injury to the child at birth, culminating in cerebral palsy.

A jury awarded more than $13 million in damages, which was eventually reduced to just over $5 million. During the legal proceedings, the child died from his injuries and the parents were substituted as plaintiffs in their capacity as personal representatives of the child’s estate. 

The wrongful death claim 

After the damages were paid, the parents filed a wrongful death suit based on the same injuries that eventually caused death. The case eventually ended up at the Maryland high court, which held that: 

  • The state wrongful death statute establishes the right to a new, independent suit that is not precluded by the original personal injury suit, a minority view among the states.
  • The personal injury suit was brought by the victim for his damages during life, while the wrongful death suit was by his survivors for their losses from the death. 

This is a broad overview of a very detailed opinion. Anyone with questions about a wrongful death should seek legal advice from an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

 

 

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