Civil Case Update-Capping Damages in Survival and Wrongful Death Actions


Goss v. Estate of Jennings, 51 A.3d 761 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2012).

This case examines whether the non-economic damages cap imposed by Maryland law applies collectively to damages awarded in a wrongful death and a survival action. The case arose from the death of an inmate (Jennings) in the custody of the Maryland Department of Corrections (DOC) who was killed while picking up litter on Interstate 495.

A wrongful death/survival action was filed by Jennings' estate, the estate of his moth and three beneficiaries against the driver of the dump truck that hit him, the DOC and the State Highway Administration (SHA). A jury trial was held and a verdict in Jennings' favor was returned in the amount of $2,025,000, representing $350,000 for the survival action and $1,675,000 for the wrongful death. The State moved for a judgment not withstanding the verdict, which was granted, and the damage award was reduced to $1.37 million. The $350,000 for the survival action remained intact as it did not exceed the cap on noneconomic damages.

Md. COURTS AND JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS Code Ann. § 11-108 provides a limitation for noneconomic damages, to include pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical disablement, loss of consortium and other nonpecuniary injury. At the time of this accident, noneconomic damages were not to exceed $500,000. For a wrongful death action where there is more than one beneficiary and the jury award exceeds the cap, the award will be reduced by a proportionate amount.

In the appeal that followed the award reduction, the State argued it did not breach any duty owed to Jennings and thus its liability could not exceed $200,000. The Court agreed. The driver of the dump truck appealed arguing that the Court's application of two separate caps to the survival and wrongful death actions was not authorized by Maryland law. He argues that even though there are two causes of action, the result was one loss and thus only one cap should apply.

The Court ultimately agreed with the Circuit Court, finding that the $350,000 awarded for the survival action did not exceed the cap and that the newly-reduced $1.37 million for wrongful death was properly reduced per the limitation.