A Connecticut jury has awarded more than $1.3 million in a medical malpractice case. In the case, the plaintiff sued her oncologists alleging that they treated her for years for the wrong form of cancer, which led to the removal of part of her intestines and colon.
What makes the case especially unusual is that the case included a claim for damages on behalf of the woman’s longtime partner who had joined the woman in a civil union . In the litigation, a judge threw out the partner’s claims, holding that while the woman had been partners for more than 20 years they were not legally joined at the time of the alleged negligence. A brief article regarding the case can be found here.
If such a case is brought in Maryland, it will be interesting to see what the result is. Maryland’s wrongful death statute, section 3-904 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, a copy of which is below, allows claims for by a parent, spouse or child of the deceased person. The claim is for emotional distress and financial loss due to the death of family member. These are the most common type of wrongful death claim, as there is frequently a parent, spouse or child of the deceased alive to pursue such a case. The term “spouse” is not defined in the section where the statute is contained, so one certainly could argue that a person who participates in a lawful civil union ceremony is a “spouse” for purposes of the wrongful death act. If that argument doesn’t work, the Maryland wrongful death act includes a provision to allow for economic losses by certain people if there is no parent, spouse or child of the deceased. Those claims are for people related to the deceased by blood or marriage. Again, it can be argued that “marriage” is not defined, so that could cover a person who participates in a lawful civil union ceremony. It’s only a matter of time before this is tested.
As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled many wrongful death cases on behalf of parents, spouses and children of the deceased. To see some of the cases I have handled, click here.
MD Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, § 3-904
§ 3-904. Wrongful death action
(a)(1) Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) of this subsection, an action under this subtitle shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, parent, and child of the deceased person.
(2) A parent may not be a beneficiary in a wrongful death action for the death of a child of the parent if:
(i)1. The parent is convicted under §§ 3-303 through 3-308, § 3-323, § 3-601, or § 3-602 of the Criminal Law Article; or
2. The parent committed an act prohibited under §§ 3-303 through 3-308, § 3-323, § 3-601, or § 3-602 of the Criminal Law Article;
(ii) The other parent of the child is the victim of the crime or act described under item (i) of this paragraph; and
(iii) The other parent of the child is a child of the parent.
(3)(i) An action under this subtitle for the wrongful death of a child caused by the parent of the child allowed under the provisions of § 5-806 of this article may not be for the benefit of that parent of the deceased child.
(ii) An action under this subtitle for the wrongful death of a parent caused by a child of the parent allowed under the provisions of § 5-806 of this article may not be for the benefit of that child of the deceased parent.
(b) If there are no persons who qualify under subsection (a), an action shall be for the benefit of any person related to the deceased person by blood or marriage who was substantially dependent upon the deceased.
(c)(1) In an action under this subtitle, damages may be awarded to the beneficiaries proportioned to the injury resulting from the wrongful death.
(2) Subject to § 11-108(d)(2) of this article, the amount recovered shall be divided among the beneficiaries in shares directed by the verdict.
(d) The damages awarded under subsection (c) of this section are not limited or restricted by the “pecuniary loss” or “pecuniary benefit” rule but may include damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education where applicable for the death of:
(1) A spouse;
(2) A minor child;
(3) A parent of a minor child; or
(4) An unmarried child who is not a minor child if:
(i) The child is 21 years old or younger; or
(ii) A parent contributed 50 percent or more of the child’s support within the 12-month period immediately before the date of death of the child.
(e) For the death of a child, who is not described under subsection (d) of this section, or a parent of a child, who is not a minor child, the damages awarded under subsection (c) of this section are not limited or restricted by the “pecuniary loss” or “pecuniary benefit” rule but may include damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, care, attention, advice, counsel, training, education, or guidance where applicable.
(f) Only one action under this subtitle lies in respect to the death of a person.
(g)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, an action under this subtitle shall be filed within three years after the death of the injured person.
(2)(i) In this paragraph, “occupational disease” means a disease caused by exposure to any toxic substance in the person’s workplace and contracted by a person in the course of the person’s employment.
(ii) If an occupational disease was a cause of a person’s death, an action shall be filed:
1. Within 10 years of the time of death; or
2. Within 3 years of the date when the cause of death was discovered, whichever is the shorter.
(h) For the purposes of this section, a person born to parents who have not participated in a marriage ceremony with each other is considered to be the child of the mother. The person is considered to be the child of the father only if the father:
(1) Has been judicially determined to be the father in a proceeding brought under § 5-1010 of the Family Law Article or § 1-208 of the Estates and Trusts Article; or
(2) Prior to the death of the child:
(i) Has acknowledged himself, in writing, to be the father;
(ii) Has openly and notoriously recognized the person to be his child; or
(iii) Has subsequently married the mother and has acknowledged himself, orally or in writing, to be the father.