What’s the Difference Between a Personal Injury and a Wrongful Death Claim?
There are important similarities between the two types of lawsuits, as well as important differences, under Maryland law. If you’ve been injured due to the negligence or the intentional act of someone, you may be able to recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit. If someone has been so seriously injured due to negligence or an intentional act that it results in the death of that person, the next of kin may be able file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Both types of lawsuits fall under tort law. The primary goals of tort law are to provide relief to injured parties for harm caused by others, to impose liability on those responsible for that harm and to deter others from committing harmful acts.
Both personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits can apply to a number of accidents, most commonly vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, slips and falls and injuries to residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes.
In both cases, the plaintiff carries the burden of proof. That would mean proving that it’s more likely than not that the defendant’s intentional or negligent act caused the person’s injury or death. To prove negligence, the plaintiff would need to show the defendant owed a duty of care, that the duty of care was breached, the plaintiff suffered an injury (which lead to his or her death for a wrongful death case) as result of the breach, and damages suffered by the plaintiff(s) resulted.
For personal injury cases, a successful plaintiff may be awarded compensation for the harm suffered, including lost wages, past and estimated future medical bills and pain and suffering. In extreme cases of negligence or intentional acts, punitive damages may also be awarded. These are meant to punish the party and discourage similar acts by that party and others (though it’s very difficult for plaintiffs to obtain punitive damages in Maryland). Personal injury cases need to be filed within three years of the injury or the discovery of the injury.
A wrongful death claim is not a legal claim seeking compensation for the pain and suffering, medical bills and lost pay of the deceased. The Personal Representative (Power of Attorney or Guardian) appointed by the Register of Wills or Orphan’s Court (which acts as the probate court) to administer the deceased’s estate may bring such a lawsuit to recover these damages. This type of legal action is a survival or estate claim.
After the wrongful death of a victim, certain family members (normally the decedent’s spouse, children or parents) have legal standing to file a claim for their own personal and economic losses. The lawsuit needs to be filed within three years from the date of death. If the claim involves a legal claim against a medical or nursing provider in Maryland, the claim would initially be filed in the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office (HCADRO) before it’s filed in court. In order to file a wrongful death claim in a Maryland court, certain prerequisites need to be met, including the filing of a certificate and report from a qualified expert.
If it’s shown that the defendant caused the death of the decedent, possible non-economic damages include mental anguish, grief, loss of companionship, pain and suffering. Economic damages could be loss of income and loss of household services of a spouse or a parent, and compensation of such losses until a child reaches the age of majority.
Many factors come into play impacting the value of a wrongful death claim, including the life expectancy of the parties, their health, how the death occurred, the length of the marriage and any separations. If an intentional act or extreme negligence caused the death, punitive damages are possible if compensatory damages are awarded.
A wrongful death case is not the type of cases a person should try to handle without legal representation. They can be highly complex both factually and legally, so a prompt, thorough investigation is needed. Possible damages in these cases may be substantial; thus, defendants and their insurance companies normally fight very hard to defend these cases.
A majority of the cases handled by the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg, LLC involve the loss of a spouse, parent or child. We have the experience and skills to obtain the highest possible compensation for your loss. Because there is a statute of limitations, or time limit, for filing a wrongful death claim in Maryland, you should not delay. For compassionate, competent advocacy following the death of your loved one, call 410-825-3161 or use this online contact form to arrange for a free consultation.