Wrongful Death of a Spouse: Your Legal Rights
If your spouse died in a long-term care facility or nursing home, you have lost the love of your life and a lifelong friend. You may be suffering through the greatest loss of your life in addition to knowing that his or her death may have been preventable. We help Maryland families enduring the loss of a spouse whose life was cut short because of the negligence or intentional acts of employees of these facilities. If you believe your spouse’s death may have been the result of the wrongful acts of a Maryland facility, we may be able to help.
“Wrongful death” is the name used for a cause of action filed by immediate family members of the deceased (often including the surviving spouse). The legal claim would accuse the defendant (the facility or nursing home) of intentional and/or negligent acts that led to the death of the spouse. The damages sought would compensate the surviving spouse and immediate family members for the emotional and economic harm done by the death.
Potential plaintiffs have up to three years from the date of death of the person to file a wrongful death claim. If that deadline is missed, absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances, the lawsuit will be dismissed and it can’t be filed again.
A survival or estate claim could also be filed seeking damages for the pain and suffering by the deceased, as well as for medical expenses and lost earnings of the person who died. The personal representative of the estate, who may or may not be the surviving spouse, would be the one filing this lawsuit. Proceeds from the lawsuit would go to the estate of the deceased.
Like other civil lawsuits, the plaintiff filing a wrongful death lawsuit carries the burden of proving (by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it was more likely than not) that the defendant was responsible for the death, due to intentional and/or negligent acts(s). If the factfinder (a jury or judge) agrees with the plaintiff, damages can be awarded at trial. Damages can include economic losses, pain and suffering and, in cases of extreme negligence or intentional acts, punitive damages meant to punish the defendant and discourage such acts by the defendant and others in the future.
At any point during the litigation, including before and during the trial, the parties may reach a settlement agreement where the plaintiff agrees to a sum of money in exchange for withdrawing the lawsuit. We actively seek to settle cases. The majority of cases settle at some point, but if a defendant is not interested in settling or is making unreasonable settlement offers, it’s probably in the client’s interests to move forward with the lawsuit, and our firm is always prepared to do so. We negotiate on behalf of our clients and give them our advice, but it’s ultimately up to the client to decide whether to settle or litigate.
If there is no evidence of intentional acts by the defendant, a wrongful death case will be based on negligence. What was done, or not done, by the defendant to support a claim of negligence depends on the facts of the case. It may be relatively simple, such as a failure to supervise the resident which resulted in a fall that caused injuries and ultimately lead to the person’s death. Or it could be a much more complex medical malpractice claim, where the wrong diagnosis was made and/or a condition was not treated properly.
Wrongful death lawsuits involving negligence claims generally boil down to showing the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased (had a legal obligation to do, or not do, something).
- That duty was breached (the defendant failed to live up to its obligations).
- That breach of duty was the legal (or proximate) cause and factual cause of harm to the resident which led directly or indirectly to his or her death.
- Legally recognized damages occurred as a result (economic losses, pain and suffering, etc.).
- Those damages can be documented or proved.
Many of the wrongful death cases handled by the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg, LLC involve the loss of a spouse. 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.