Case Allows Wrongful Death Claim to be Pursued After Successful Injury Lawsuit

How many times can an injured party sue someone who negligently causes the same injury? Well, common sense would say once, and that is generally true. A defendant can not be forced to pay twice for the same thing, and there is a longstanding tradition in Maryland law that any claims an injured party has must all be brought in one action. Whatever is not brought is lost.

So it comes as a surprise that a recent case addresses a rare situation in which someone may sue a negligent defendant twice for the same occurrence or event.

Child Born With Fatal Defect

The case was filed by the McQuitty family, who sued their physician for delivering a child without their consent. There was apparently a rare medical condition that made the birth dangerous. McQuitty suffered a “complete placental abruption,” that resulted in her child being born with severe injuries, which eventually developed into cerebral palsy.

Suit was filed on behalf of their minor child by the McQuittys against the physicians, and a jury awarded them $13 mil, largely to cover the child’s future significant medical expenses. During the barrage of appeals by the doctors that ensued, the minor child eventually died. Thus, the McQuittys filed a new action, this time a wrongful death action on their own behalf.

Appeal After Dismissal

The trial court dismissed the wrongful death action, saying that the McQuittys had already sued once, and thus, the second suit based on the wrongful death claim was barred. The issue was whether a wrongful death action was a derivative claim of a personal injury suit, or whether it was a separate and independent claim.

The Court determined that a wrongful death claim, which seeks redress to family for injuries that occur after the death, such as loss of support, consortium, or companionship, are different than those in the main personal injury claim, which largely addresses the injured party’s own damages while the victim is still alive.

The Court did agree that there could be a chance at double recovery for an injured party, but did not see it as a substantial risk, based on the differing damages available in both actions.

Release Was Not an Impediment to Second Suit

Additionally, although a release was executed by the McQuittys as to one defendant before trial, it did not bar the action as to the other defendants. Looking at the exact language of the release, it only released the party that the McQuittys settled with, not all defendants.

There is no reason why the holding in this case would not apply to any kind of injury claim. Those who have suffered the most catastrophic injuries now can recover for all of their damages, both before and after the death of the victim.

If you or your family suffers a catastrophic injury, make sure that you obtain the full measure of your damages under all available causes of action. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.