When a family member or loved one is gravely injured or killed as a result of the negligence of another party, it is natural to want to seek out as many avenues as possible for relief or justice against the party at fault. In most situations, plaintiffs are precluded from bringing multiple rounds of claims against the same defendant. Thus, for instance, a plaintiff cannot bring a lawsuit for negligence against a defendant and then, after losing, attempt to bring a different negligence claim. Courts generally hold that plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court, but not to repeatedly drag a defendant into court if they lose. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to bring multiple personal injury claims when a plaintiff feels that one claim does not adequately cover the harm that they have suffered. A recent case out of the neighboring state of Maryland looks at situations in which both personal injury and wrongful death claims can be brought.
In Spangler v. McQuitty, a family brought personal injury claims against a doctor, his partners, their practice group, and their medical facility on behalf of their son, Dylan. While pregnant with Dylan, his mother’s doctors failed to obtain informed consent for the treatment he provided to her, resulting in a placental abruption, which left Dylan with severe cerebral palsy and other lasting injuries. Prior to trial, the family settled with the medical facility, and the claims against the doctor’s partners were dismissed, so the case proceeded to trial against the doctor and his practice group. The jury found for Dylan, and he was ultimately awarded over $13 million. Various post-trial motions ensued, and the verdict was ultimately reduced to around $5 million.
Shortly after the $5 million judgment was paid, Dylan’s family filed a separate lawsuit for wrongful death, since Dylan had passed away during the course of the personal injury proceedings. The lawsuit was based on the same facts but sought additional damages for Dylan’s death. The various defendants moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Dylan’s family was precluded from bringing it because they had already received an award in the personal injury lawsuit. The court agreed and dismissed the case. Dylan’s family appealed. On appeal, the court reversed the lower court decision. Not long afterward, the entire court granted certiorari to re-review the decision.
In considering whether the wrongful death claims were precluded by the personal injury case, the court looked at the wording of Maryland’s wrongful death statute. It determined that the language of the statute created a new cause of action independent from a personal injury claim, rather than derivative of a personal injury claim. This was because, in part, the statute provided for new categories of damages as a result of the loss of a family member. They further noted that nothing within the language of the statute or the legislative history precluded bringing additional wrongful death claims. The court held that since the wrongful death statute provides for damages only after a family member has died, and since it is meant to compensate for those losses, it does not result in a double recovery of the damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit.
The court noted in its opinion that there is a split among states as to whether a wrongful death claim is independent of personal injury claims or derivative of them. Thus, it cannot be assumed that all states will allow a plaintiff to bring both personal injury and wrongful death claims. However, when dealing with claims in Maryland, it is important to remember that there may be several avenues for damages available, particularly when a death has occurred.
If you have a family member who was recently injured or killed as a result of a medical error, it is important to consider all possible avenues for recovery, especially when your family member may face a lifetime of expensive medical care. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been assisting clients with medical malpractice, personal injury, and wrongful death claims throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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