Goodell DeVries's Appellate Group Defeats Bid to Expand Wrongful Death Act

By: GDLD | 8.12.22 | Case Results

Goodell DeVries has secured an important precedent in Maryland’s Court of Appeals for oncologists and other health care providers against novel Wrongful Death claims for "failure to prolong life" of terminally ill cancer patients. Wadsworth v. Sharma (Case No. 40, July 15, 2022). Derek Stikeleather briefed and argued the case in the Court of Appeals. For decades, Maryland courts have held the line against "loss of chance" claims brought by Wrongful Death beneficiaries who seek recovery for medical negligence that occurred after the underlying illness was already likely to — and ultimately did — cause the decedent's death. In such cases, it is impossible that any purported negligence likely caused the death, as required to support civil liability under the Wrongful Death Act.

With support from the Plaintiffs' Bar, the Wadsworth wrongful-death beneficiaries conceded that the patient with Stage IV breast cancer had no chance of surviving her illness, but they proffered expert testimony that earlier treatment could have extended the patient's life by up to 2.5 years. The trial court and Court of Special Appeals held that such wrongful-death claims were barred by the loss-of-chance rule. Plaintiffs argued in the Court of Appeals that the loss-of-chance rule and cases applying it simply did not apply to their novel claims for failure to prolong life. Recognizing that the statutory rights created by the Wrongful Death Act are in derogation of the common law and narrowly construed, the Act limits recovery to cases where the negligence caused the death, stare decisis bars loss-of-chance claims in Maryland, and any changes to the Act must come from the Legislature, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment for the oncologists on the wrongful-death beneficiaries' claims.