Wrongful death claims are the most serious of all personal injury claims. Generally, wrongful death claims arise when the negligence or intentional acts of one person cause the death of another person, and they are pursued by the decedent’s survivors to seek redress for losses suffered as a result of the decedent’s death. These types of claims are especially common in medical malpractice cases, but can also arise in many other situations, such as in cases of death as a result of automobile accidents, dangerous products, and nursing home abuse.
Below, we’ll examine the elements of a typical wrongful death claim.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
Most (although not all) wrongful death actions are based on a theory of negligence — i.e. the decedent’s death was caused by an accident rather than intentional conduct. In order to prevail in a wrongful death action based in negligence, the plaintiff must prove all four elements of a standard negligence cause of action, outlined below.
Duty is the legal obligation of one person to act a certain way toward another person. For example, doctors owe their patients the duty to treat them in a medically appropriate manner, while drivers owe all other drivers on the road the duty to obey traffic laws and refrain from causing danger.
A breach of duty occurs when a person’s conduct falls below that which the law requires. For example, in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff can show a breach of duty by submitting evidence that a doctor exercising reasonable care would not have prescribed medication to which the plaintiff was allergic. In an automobile accident case, the plaintiff can show that the other driver breached their duty of care by submitting evidence that they were violating traffic laws by driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.
Causation exists when, but for the breach of duty by the defendant, the plaintiff would not have suffered harm. In the automobile accident example above, the plaintiff could demonstrate causation by submitting evidence that he or she would not have suffered injuries had the other driver been driving the speed limit when the accident occurred.
Finally, damages exist where the plaintiff has suffered injuries that can be remedied through monetary compensation. This element is fairly easy to show—the plaintiff in the above automobile accident example could show damages by submitting medical bills incurred as a result of treating his or her injuries.
Prevailing on a Wrongful Death Claim
Thus, in order for a plaintiff to prove a wrongful death case, he or she must show:
- That the defendant owed a duty to the decedent to refrain from causing the type of harm the decedent suffered
- That the defendant breached this duty by acting carelessly, recklessly, or otherwise failing to exercise the duty of care owed to the decedent by law
- That the defendant’s actions actually caused the decedent’s death, and
- That the decedent and the decedent’s survivors have suffered losses as a result of the death (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of earnings and future earnings, etc.).
Contact a Waldorf Wrongful Death Lawyer
This article is but a very general overview of the basic requirements a plaintiff must meet to prevail in a wrongful death action. Every state imposes additional statutory requirements and limits on these kinds of actions, including limitations on who can initiate a claim, the time limit for doing so, and how much money successful plaintiffs can recover. If you are considering pursuing a wrongful death claim in Maryland, you likely will want to secure the assistance of a skilled Maryland wrongful death lawyer. Contact the Waldorf wrongful death lawyers at the Law Offices of Thomas E. Pyles at 301-705-5006 for a consultation. We can help you and your family get the compensation that you deserve. We also have office locations in Leonardtown and Laurel for your convenience.