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Maryland's unusual stance on wrongful death claims

"A judgment on the merits in a decedent's personal injury action during his or her lifetime does not bar a subsequent wrongful death action by the beneficiaries."

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So spoke the Maryland Court of Appeals in an opinion released this summer, which corresponded with its decision to allow a wrongful death case to move forward...

Parents Peggy and Gary McQuitty are seeking compensation for the wrongful death of their son, Dylan. According to the McQuittys, Dr. Donald Spangler, violated the informed consent doctrine when he failed to offer Mrs. McQuitty the option of delivering her son via immediate C-section back in 1995. The doctrine states that it is the duty of the physician to facilitate a patient's reasoned decision by disclosing all relevant information regarding procedures. This includes providing information relating to alternative treatments and the risks and benefits thereof.

In the case of the McQuittys, the Defendant failed to inform his patient of the possibility of an earlier C-section, which likely would have prevented her son Dylan from being born with deformities and, some years later dying. This formed the basis of the McQuittys' first lawsuit against the doctor, which was filed through their son in 2001. The McQuittys won their medical malpractice case and Dylan was awarded upwards of $5 million in damages by the court.

In accordance with most other states' laws, this action would bar the McQuittys from seeking compensation for the subsequent wrongful death of their son, as it's considered a derivative of the injury (Dylan's deformities, in this case). Acting under this logic, the Maryland Court initially dismissed the 2012 wrongful death suit filed by the McQuittys against Dr. Spangler. The intermediate Court of Special Appeals, however, disagreed and reversed the decision, which lead to a review by and atypical decision from the high court earlier last week.

The McQuittys' attorney, Henry Dugan praised the decision, stating the personal injury suit and wrongful death suit seek to compensate two different parties: the victim and the victim's loved ones respectively. Thus, the McQuittys are justified in moving forward with their case, which relies on the same set of facts, but seeks to provide them, rather than their son with financial compensation.

Maryland's stance on wrongful death is unique in that it does not allow prior suits to preclude "new and independent causes of action." Medical and insurance companies alike worry that this has the potential to exponentially increase the number of cases filed against providers, as victims and their families can essentially be compensated multiple times for the same occurrence. Though this is likely, the Maryland Court stood by its ruling, illustrating that it preserves the ability of a victim's family members to receive their rightful compensation by way of a wrongful death claim.

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