What is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Actions in Maryland?
Legal Basis for Fatal Accident Claims
Because they fall under the umbrella of personal injury laws, the theory of liability behind both wrongful death and survival actions is usually negligence. As such, it is necessary to meet four essential elements to prove negligence:
- You must show that the at-fault party had a duty to exercise the same level of care that a reasonably prudent person would when acting;
- You need evidence showing that the person or entity breached this duty of care through unreasonably unsafe acts;
- You must establish a causal link between the breach of duty and the accident in which your loved one was killed, such that he or she would not have died but for the breach; and
- You need to prove that you suffered losses because of the victim’s death.
In addition, there is another requirement when taking legal action after someone close to you dies: You must have legal standing to raise a claim. In Maryland, the surviving spouse, parent, or child of the decedent has standing in a wrongful death and survival action. If no one qualifies according to these criteria, any person related by blood or marriage has standing – but only if they were dependent upon the deceased for support.
Summary of Wrongful Death Civil Remedy
The basic distinction between the legal actions available after a fatal accident is WHO is seeking WHAT type of compensation. For wrongful death, it is the surviving family members and dependent relatives who seek monetary damages. The passing of your loved one carries emotional and financial implications for you, which are separate from what the deceased individual experienced. In this sense, survivors are viewed as victims. Considering the fact that damages are intended to make the victim whole after an accident, compensation for victims in a Maryland wrongful death claim include:
- Mental and emotional anguish;
- Pain and suffering;
- Lost financial contributions; and,
- Loss of education, guidance, love, education, support, companionship, and consortium.
Overview of Survival Actions: With this claim, the focus is on the losses of the decedent – or, officially, the person’s estate. After someone passes, the legal entity that takes his or her place is the estate, which will be managed by a personal representative. This might be an individual who was named in the will, or someone who was appointed as estate administrator by a probate court. On the decedent’s behalf, the personal representative would seek monetary damages for the harm suffered from the time of the accident to the point of death. Compensation for a survival action may include lost wages, funeral and burial costs, and medical expenses incurred before the victim passed away.
Note that it is possible for the decedent’s estate to recover for pain and suffering, but only when he or she actually experienced such harm. In a situation in which death was instantaneous, you cannot obtain these amounts. However, when the victim survived for any measurable length of time, it may be possible to recover for non-economic damages – subject to the limitations described below.
Limitations on Wrongful Death and Survival Action Claims
Even when you have proof of the essential elements and standing to pursue a cause of action, there are some legal restrictions that apply to these cases. You should trust a Maryland personal injury attorney to help you navigate the following:
- Maryland’s statute of limitations does apply to both wrongful death cases and survival actions. You must file a lawsuit in court within three years, and the clock starts to run on the date of the accident. If you do not initiate litigation before the deadline, you are forever barred from recovering monetary damages.
- There is a statutory cap on pain and suffering damages in Maryland, and it is $890,000 in 2021; in wrongful death cases with two or more beneficiaries, the non-economic damages cap is $1,335,500.
- Maryland follows the rule of contributory negligence, in which monetary damages are barred if the victim had a hand in causing the accidental death. The standard is the same as applies to the at-fault party: When the decedent did not exercise reasonable care in acting, compensation is not recoverable.
Discuss Wrongful Death and Survival Actions with a Maryland Personal Injury Lawyer
Individuals can be hurt in a wide range of accidents, many of which are preventable. However, in the most tragic situations, the victim is killed because of the careless acts of another. Statistics compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that around 214,000 people die every year because of unintentional injuries, making accidents the third leading cause of death nationwide. In Maryland:
- Approximately 530 people are killed in motor vehicle collisions annually.
- Crashes involving motorcycles and bicycles lead to around 90 deaths every year.
- Almost 130 pedestrians suffer fatal injuries in accidents every year.
Aside from motor vehicle crashes, there are many other scenarios that can lead to fatalities, including slip and falls, defective products, and intentional assaults. For survivors, the tragic death of a loved one is devastating. Grief-stricken families are suddenly left with unexpected bills at a time when the deceased victim is no longer able to contribute financially, and many other costs will soon be mounting.
Fortunately, Maryland personal injury laws also apply to situations where a person is killed by someone else’s carelessness. The legal remedy is a civil lawsuit that encompasses the concepts of wrongful death and survival actions, which are slightly different. Your Maryland personal injury attorney will handle the details, but an understanding of the distinctions is useful.
While legal remedies cannot bring back a loved one who died in an accident, surviving family members can take some comfort in knowing that there are options for recouping your losses. Whether you are in a position to pursue a wrongful death case, survival action, or both, it is critical to have experienced legal presentation on your side. For additional details, please contact the Baltimore office of Bob Katz Law. We can schedule a no-charge consultation to assess your circumstances and discuss strategy.