E-Alert Case Updates
Maryland Court of Appeals Rules That a Minor’s Wrongful Death Claims are Tolled during the Period of Minority
Cassandra Parker, Individually and as Personal Representative of Her Son, Craig Junior Parker, Deceased, et al. v. William Hamilton, et al.
Available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2017/78a16.pdf
Cassandra Parker, the mother of Craig Parker (“Mr. Parker”), and Mr. Parker’s minor child, “Z.”, brought a wrongful death and survival action against William Hamilton (“Defendant Hamilton”) in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County. Plaintiffs filed an appeal after the circuit court dismissed the wrongful death claims as time-barred under Maryland Code, § 3-904 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article. The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court’s judgment.
On June 9, 2015, Plaintiffs filed the wrongful death and survival action relating to the alleged August 22, 2009 murder of Mr. Parker by Defendant Hamilton. Plaintiffs claimed that Defendant Hamilton buried Mr. Parker’s remains to conceal the wrongdoing. The Complaint included counts of: (1) wrongful death based negligence, (2) a survival action based on negligence, (3) wrongful death based on gross negligence, (4) a survival action based on gross negligence, (5) wrongful death based on battery, (6) a survival action based on battery, and (7) fraudulent conveyance. Defendant Hamilton filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment on limitations grounds. The Circuit Court granted Defendant Hamilton’s motion to dismiss in part. The Court held that the wrongful death claims were time-barred under Maryland Code, § 3-904 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article. The Court denied the motion as to the survival claim which meant that aspect of the claim could proceed.
The Circuit Court concluded that since the Complaint was filed on June 9, 2015, which was after the three-year limitations deadline of August 22, 2012 had expired based on the August 22, 2009 date of death, that the wrongful death claims must be dismissed. The Circuit Court’s dismissal of the wrongful death claims was grounded on (1) the application of the time limitation in the wrongful death statute as a condition precedent and (2) the rejection of Plaintiffs’ argument regarding the retroactivity of Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-904(g), which creates an exception to the condition for wrongful death actions based on criminal homicides.
The Plaintiffs appealed, and before the Court of Special Appeals considered the direct appeal, the Court of Appeals granted certiotari. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-201 tolled a wrongful death case during the period of minority. Defendant Hamilton argued that the circuit court properly construed Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-201 as inapplicable to wrongful death claims. Under the prior precedent of Waddell v. Kirkpatrick, the time period for commencing actions prescribed in the wrongful death statute was a condition precedent, which operated as a limitation of both liability and remedy. Waddell v. Kirkpatrick, 331 Md. 52, 626 A.2d 353 (1993). The Court looked at the General Assembly’s 1997 amendment to Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-201 which effectively overruled Waddell, and which allowed tolling of wrongful death claims during the period of minority. Subsection (a) to Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-201 states:
Further, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-203 provided that a cause of action accrues at the time when the party discovered or should have discovered the fraud, if the knowledge of a cause of action is kept from a party by fraud of an adverse party. Plaintiffs argued that the Circuit Court erred in dismissing their causes of action by failing to consider that the time limitation to file a wrongful death action was tolled when the defendant engages in fraudulent conduct that prevents the plaintiff from bringing a wrongful death claim within three years from the date of death. Defendant Hamilton argued that Plaintiffs did not sufficiently plead fraud within their complaint in order to invoke Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-203. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Plaintiffs’ argument and determined that the Plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to reflect or imply Defendant Hamilton’s fraudulent conduct.
The Court of Appeals held that the Circuit Court erred in dismissing the minor Plaintiff’s wrongful death claims. The Court held that pursuant to Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-201, the minor plaintiff’s wrongful death claims were tolled during the period of his minority. The Court also determined that the Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint sufficiently pled fraud in order to invoke Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-203. In sum, the case was remanded to the Circuit Court where Plaintiffs’ wrongful death claims were allowed to proceed.
|©2008 Maryland Defense Counsel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|