A wrongful death claim is a suit that arises from the death of an individual that was caused by the conduct of another. A wrongful death suit is different from other types of personal injury claims because the actual victim (the “decedent”) is not bringing suit, rather it is the family members or the decedent’s estate. As such, a wrongful death claim is brought to recover damages for the injuries that the surviving family and/or estate have suffered due to the death of the victim. The damages recovered do not include damages that are personal to the decedent, since the decedent is not allowed to recover for pain and suffering, mental distress, or any other form of compensatory damages unique to him or her. The purpose of a wrongful death suit is to provide relief to family members who have been injured emotionally and financially as a result of the family member’s death. To file a wrongful death suit in Maryland, you must show that:
- The death of a person was caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default (Md. Cts and Jud. Pro. Code Ann. § 3-902);
- The act, neglect or default would have entitled the injured person to file an action to recover damages had the death not ensued (Benjamin v. Union Carbide Corp., 162 Md.App. 173, 188, 873 A.2d 463, 472 (2005)); and
- The relation you share with the deceased party qualifies you to make a wrongful death claim (Md. Cts and Jud. Pro. Code Ann. § 3-904).
Maryland law makes a distinction between persons who can file a wrongful death suit and persons who are beneficiaries. Only certain individuals can file wrongful death claims, and only certain individuals are permitted to bring wrongful death claims on behalf of others. In Maryland, a surviving spouse, child, parent, or guardian of the deceased person may file a suit on behalf of the surviving spouse, children, or parents. The only time next of kin, administrator, or personal representative of the deceased may bring suit is if there are no surviving spouses, parents, or children of the deceased. Siblings and cousins of the decedent do not have the right to bring the lawsuit unless they have been named as guardian or personal representative of the decedent, in which case they still have no right of recovery so long as there is a surviving spouse, child, or parent of the decedent. Md. Cts and Jud. Pro. Code Ann. § 3-904.