Maryland Court Discusses Standing in Medical Malpractice Cases

In Maryland, if people die due to complications caused by the negligence of their healthcare providers, their loved ones may be able to seek compensation via wrongful death claims. Only certain parties have the right to pursue such claims, however. In a recent Maryland medical malpractice case, the court analyzed whether there was adequate evidence of a common law marriage so as to grant a purported wife standing to pursue wrongful death claims, ultimately determining that there was. If you lost a loved one because of incompetent medical care, it is wise to speak to a Maryland medical malpractice lawyer about your possible claims.

Background of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant doctor and defendant hospital. In his complaint, the plaintiff asserted that the decedent was his wife under Pennsylvania common law. The defendant doctor filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the wrongful death claim because he and the decedent were not married under Pennsylvania law. The trial court agreed with the defendant and dismissed the complaint. In doing so, the court stated that the plaintiff failed to provide enough evidence to establish a genuine dispute about his alleged common-law marriage. The plaintiff appealed.

Standing to Pursue Wrongful Death Claims in Medical Malpractice Cases

The sole question on appeal was whether the trial court erred in dismissing the case based on lack of standing. The court ultimately answered in the affirmative and reinstated the plaintiff’s complaint.

The court explained that Maryland does not recognize common law marriage, but it does acknowledge marriages that are valid where they were contracted. Pennsylvania abolished common law marriage in 2005, but it still recognizes common law marriages established before January 1, 2005. In Pennsylvania, a common law marriage can only be formed through an exchange of present tense words with the specific intention of creating a legal husband-wife relationship, known as verba in praesenti.

To establish a common law marriage, a party must provide clear and convincing evidence, usually in the form of words in praesenti indicating a definite agreement to marry. However, if there is no evidence of verba in praesenti, a party can present evidence of constant cohabitation and a reputation of marriage to create a rebuttable presumption of the marriage’s existence. This presumption is only applied when direct testimony regarding the exchange of verba in praesenti is unavailable. If the surviving spouse is able to testify directly about the words allegedly exchanged with the deceased, the presumption cannot be invoked. In the subject case, the plaintiff argued that his testimony regarding verba in praesenti is enough to create a genuine issue of material fact. The court agreed, and reinstated his complaint.

Meet with a Seasoned Maryland Attorney

Losing a loved one because of medical malpractice can cause not only emotional trauma but also significant financial harm. If you have questions about whether you may be able to recover damages against the doctor that caused your loved one’s death, it is smart to meet with an attorney. The seasoned Maryland attorneys of Arfaa Law Group can advise you of your rights and aid you in seeking any damages you may be owed. You can contact us via our online form or by calling us at (410) 889-1850 to set up a conference.

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