Maryland Statutes of Limitations: Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice
A statute of limitations is a deadline set by the Maryland legislature to file a civil lawsuit. If that deadline has passed, it’s virtually certain a case will be dismissed, though there are rare exceptions. If you or a family member has suffered from what you believe is medical malpractice or a family member has died under circumstances that you think shows someone is to blame, it’s better to act sooner rather than later and avoid this potential problem for your legal claims.
The general purpose of statutes of limitations is to give defendants the ability to protect themselves from defending stale claims and to require plaintiffs to diligently pursue their legal rights.
In the case of a wrongful death case, the lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date of death, not the date of the incident which caused the death. For medical malpractice cases, the complaint needs to be filed during one of these two deadlines, whichever one is shorter
- No later than five years from the time the injury occurred, or
- Within three years of the date the injury was discovered.
State law includes the “discovery rule” in the statute of limitations for medical malpractice but not in cases of wrongful death. As described in Betskoff v. Martin Groff Construction Co., Inc., under Maryland’s discovery rule, the clock doesn’t start ticking and the calendar doesn’t start turning for the purposes of statute of limitations until the plaintiff knows or should know of the potential claim.
- This rule tries to balance the principles of fairness and efficiency for the court system when a diligent plaintiff may be unaware of an injury or harm during the statutory period.
- This doesn’t require actual knowledge by the plaintiff, but this may be satisfied if the plaintiff is on “inquiry notice.”
- A plaintiff is put on inquiry notice when he or she has sufficient facts to cause a reasonable person to investigate further and a diligent investigation would have uncovered the fact that the plaintiff was a victim of medical malpractice.
In very narrow circumstances, a lawsuit filed beyond the statute of limitations may be allowed because of “equitable tolling.” A plaintiff could try this approach if there’s evidence a defendant committed fraud in order to cover up the injury, its cause or the party responsible for it, and as a result, the plaintiff, despite being diligent and trying to protect his or her rights, didn’t learn of critical information soon enough to file the lawsuit on time.
This was discussed by the court in Arvon v. Shakiba, which stated:
- In certain cases, fairness requires the statute of limitations to be delayed. A party may not have the ability to bring a case even though they are aware of an injury or damages. Delaying or “tolling” the statute of limitations normally occurs if the plaintiff is “disabled.” This could be the case if the person is a minor or is mentally incompetent. Once the disability ends, the statute of limitations begins to run. A recent case, Parker V. Hamilton (2017), confirms the tolling.
- Equitable tolling tries to excuse an untimely filing by a plaintiff where a plaintiff has also been induced or tricked by the defendant into allowing the filing deadline to pass.
- It applies only when a party’s failure to meet a legally-mandated deadline was unavoidable because of circumstances beyond the plaintiff’s control.
- The purpose of equitable tolling is to stop the statute of limitations for a plaintiff acting in good faith and where the defendant is not prejudiced from defending the claim, as long as the plaintiff uses reasonable care and diligence in trying to learn the facts that would disclose the defendant’s fraud or other misconduct.
- If a court decides a plaintiff didn’t use due diligence to preserve his or her legal rights, the case will be dismissed. Courts don’t allow plaintiffs to miss statutes of limitations often because courts would have to cope with lawsuits concerning events that happened many years in the past.
The Arvon case involved injuries from a car accident. The wrong defendant was named in the original filing of the case and the complaint was later changed to include two people who may have been responsible for the accident, but the change occurred after the statute of limitations had passed.
- The plaintiff blamed an insurance company of trying to delay the proper filing and induce the plaintiff to make a mistake that would result in the case’s dismissal due to the statute of limitations.
- The court pointed out that the names of the potentially responsible parties, i.e., the proper defendants, were in the accident’s police report, which was available to the plaintiff. Because of the failure to pay attention to the report and use it when first filing the complaint, the lawsuit wasn’t filed on time and was dismissed.
No matter the length of the statute of limitations in your potential case, whether it’s for wrongful death or medical malpractice, contact our office as soon as you believe you may have a basis for a lawsuit. We can talk about the situation and possibly start an investigation. Facts are the foundation of any lawsuit, and as more time passes it becomes more difficult to get those facts.
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 understand the situations our clients are suffering through and have the experience and skills to obtain the highest possible compensation for your loss. For compassionate, competent advocacy following injuries caused by medical malpractice or the death of your loved one, call 410-825-3161 or use this online contact form to arrange for a free consultation.