DONALD B. SPANGLER, et al.
PEGGY McQUITTY, et vir.
Argued: March 31, 2016
Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-12-005294
Barbera, C.J., [*] Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald,
Watts, Hotten, JJ.
consider, for the third time, the case of McQuitty v.
Spangler, which we previously discussed in McQuitty
v. Spangler, 410 Md. 1, 976 A.2d 1020 (2009)
("McQuitty I"), and McQuitty v.
Spangler, 424 Md. 527, 36 A.3d 928 (2012)
("McQuitty II"). Specifically, we explore
whether the definition of "wrongful act" under the
Maryland wrongful death statute, Md. Code (2006, 2013 Repl.
Vol.), §§ 3-901 through 3-904 of the Courts and
Judicial Proceedings Article (Cts. & Jud. Proc.");
specifically, § 3-901(e), precludes beneficiaries from
maintaining a wrongful death action when the decedent
obtained a personal injury judgment predicated on the same
underlying facts during his lifetime. We also focus on
whether a decedent's release of one joint tort-feasor in
a personal injury action for any and all future claims in
connection with the tortious conduct, also precludes the
decedent's beneficiaries from pursuing a wrongful death
action against all joint tort-feasors based on the same
reasons expressed below, we hold that Maryland's wrongful
death statute creates a new and independent cause of action
for a decedent's beneficiaries, and thus, a judgment on
the merits in a decedent's personal injury action during
his or her lifetime does not bar a subsequent wrongful death
action by the beneficiaries. Additionally, we hold that
pursuant to the Maryland Uniform Contribution Among
Tort-Feasors Act, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-1404, a
release by the injured person of one joint tort-feasor,
whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the
other tort-feasors unless the release so provides. Thus,
where the language of a release unambiguously reveals an
intent to release only one joint tort-feasor, the release
does not preclude a subsequent wrongful death action against
other tort-feasors that were not parties to the release. We
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Peggy and Gary McQuitty ("the McQuittys"), on
behalf of their minor child, Dylan, successfully sued Ms.
McQuitty's obstetrician and primary care physician,
Donald Spangler ("Dr. Spangler"), along with his
practice group, Glowacki, Elberfeld & Spangler, P.A.
(collectively "Petitioners"), for failing to secure
Ms. McQuitty's informed consent for treatment. As a result,
Ms. McQuitty suffered complete placental abruption, causing
severe injuries to Dylan during his birth in May of 1995, and
eventually, a severe condition of cerebral palsy.
original complaint also included co-defendants, Franklin
Square Hospital, where Dylan was born, and Dr. Spangler's
partner, Harrold Elberfeld ("Dr. Elberfeld"). Dr.
Elberfeld and Franklin Square Hospital moved for summary
judgment on liability and damages, which was subsequently
granted by the Circuit Court for Baltimore County in March of
2004-on the same date Dr. Elberfeld settled with the
McQuittys. Franklin Square Hospital also settled with the
McQuittys prior to trial, notwithstanding the summary
judgment ruling in its favor. The settlements were entered on
the record and the case proceeded on the informed consent
claim against Petitioners as sole defendants.
to trial, Petitioners moved for summary judgment. Dr.
Spangler alleged that he did not have a duty to obtain the
informed consent of Ms. McQuitty regarding a placental
abruption, "because he did not conduct or propose an
'affirmative invasion of her physical
integrity.'" McQuitty II 424 Md. at 532, 36
A.3d at 931 (quoting McQuitty I, 410 Md. at
13–14, 976 A.2d at 1027–28). The motion was
denied, and the trial ensued. The jury returned a verdict in
favor of Dylan and awarded $13, 078, 515 in damages,
including $8, 442, 515 in future medical expenses.
Petitioners filed a Motion for Remittitur and a Motion for
Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict ("JNOV"),
raising the same argument in support of their motion for
summary judgment. The circuit court granted Petitioners'
motion for JNOV, which was affirmed by the Court of Special
Appeals in an unpublished opinion.
McQuitty I, 410 Md. at 33, 976 A.2d at 1039, this
Court reversed the grant of the JNOV, and remanded with
instructions that the circuit court consider Petitioners'
unresolved Motion for Remittitur. On September 26, 2009,
prior to the resolution of the remittitur, Dylan died and the
McQuittys were named as personal representatives of the
Estate. Thereafter, Petitioners filed various post-trial
motions, seeking a new trial or a reduction in the award for
future medical expenses, alleging, inter alia, that
Dylan's death was a "significant event" that
affected the equities of the case.
circuit court denied Petitioners' motion to revise the
judgment, but denied in part and granted in part
Petitioners' Motion for Remittitur. As a result, the
court reduced the initial jury award, pursuant to the
statutory cap on non-economic damages of $500, 000 under Cts.
& Jud. Proc. § 11–108(b)(2)(i), and also
reduced the judgment by fifty percent to reflect Dr.
Elberfeld's pro rata share of liability, as a
result of the joint tort-feasor release from the McQuittys,
in compliance with the Uniform Contribution Among
Tort–Feasors Act, under Cts. & Jud. Proc. §
circuit court also denied Petitioners' requests to permit
the periodic payment of future economic damages under Cts.
& Jud. Proc. § 11–109(c), which would have
reduced the jury's award by the Franklin Square
Hospital's settlement amount. The court ultimately
reduced the judgment to $5, 039, 257.50, plus post-judgment
interest calculated from the date of the entry of judgment,
on September 27, 2006, plus costs. Petitioners subsequently
filed a renewed motion for a new trial and a motion to alter,
amend, or revise the judgment, which were both denied.
Thereafter, Petitioners noted a timely appeal to the Court of
Special Appeals, but this Court granted certiorari,
prior to that proceeding. In McQuitty II, 424 Md. at
529-30, 36 A.3d at 929-30, we affirmed the circuit
court's judgment. Subsequently, on March 23, 2012,
Petitioners satisfied the judgment.
Wrongful Death Action
17, 2012, Respondents filed a wrongful death action against
Petitioners, under the Maryland wrongful death statute, Cts.
& Jud. Proc. § 3-901 et seq., to recover
damages based upon the same underlying facts in the personal
injury action regarding Dr. Spangler's failure to obtain
informed consent. On August 1, 2012, Petitioners filed a
Motion to Dismiss Respondents' action. Following a
December 6, 2012 hearing, the motion was granted. The circuit
court concluded that Respondents' wrongful death action
was precluded by the judgment in Dylan's favor
"because Dylan no longer had a right to bring another
claim against [ ] [Petitioners] at the time of his
death." Subsequently, on January 4, 2013, Respondents
appealed the judgment.
the matter was pending before the Court of Special Appeals,
this Court issued its opinion in Mummert v.
Alizadeh, 435 Md. 207, 77 A.3d 1049 (2013), which
concerned similar issues to those presented here regarding
the definition of "wrongful act" under Cts. &
Jud. Proc. § 3-901(e). In Mummert, the
decedent's husband and three children brought a wrongful
death action against the decedent's physician, based on a
failure to timely diagnose the decedent's colorectal
cancer. Id. at 210-11, 77 A.3d at 1051. The
physician filed a motion to dismiss the wrongful death action
because the statutory three-year period in the wrongful death
statute had expired relative to the decedent's personal
injury action prior to her death. Id. The motion was
subsequently granted. Id. at 211, 77 A.3d at 1052.
the narrow question before this Court in Mummert was
whether the decedent's failure to file a personal injury
claim in her lifetime within the limitations period,
precluded her wrongful death beneficiaries from filing a
wrongful death action based upon the same negligent act after
her death. Id. at 212, 77 A.3d at 1051-52. In
reversing the circuit court's dismissal of the action, we
held that, in enacting the wrongful death statute, the
General Assembly "did not intend to define 'wrongful
act' so as to render a wrongful death claim contingent on
the decedent's ability to file timely a tort claim prior
to death." Id. at 210, 77 A.3d at 1051. We also
held that the "statute of limitations for bringing tort
claims against health care providers in instances of alleged
medical negligence does not apply to a claim for wrongful
holding, we reaffirmed the independent nature of wrongful
death actions established in Stewart v. United Elec.
Light & Power Co., 104 Md. 332, 65 A. 49, 53 (1906),
which provided that a wrongful death action was enacted to
allow surviving relatives and beneficiaries "who [were]
wholly dependent on the decedent, to recover damages for his
or her own loss accruing from the decedent's death."
Mummert, at 219-20, 77 A.3d at 1056.
observed that a wrongful death action, was, in some respects,
derivative of a decedent's personal injury claim, and
thus, where certain defenses would bar a decedent's
claim, they would similarly bar a wrongful death action
brought by the decedent's surviving relatives.
Id. at 222, 77 A.3d at 1057. We noted that the
defenses which generally bar subsequent actions, such as
contributory negligence, assumption of the risk, parental
immunity, and lack of privity of contract, were
distinguishable from the statute of limitations at issue,
because where the former defenses applied, "the decedent
did not have a viable claim from the outset."
Id. 221, 77 A.3d at 1057 (emphasis added). We opined
that the limitations defense barred an otherwise viable claim
of the decedent, only due to a lapse of time, which made
barring a wrongful death action under those grounds illogical
since the action would be "time-barred before it can
accrue." Id. at 226-28, 77 A.3d at 1060-61.
distinguished cases in which a wrongful death action was
barred by a decedent's release of his negligence action.
Citing with approval the holding in State, ex rel.
Melitch v. United Rys. & Electric Co. of Baltimore,
121 Md. 457, 88 A. 229 (1913), we held that a release is
distinguishable because "a decedent who executes a
release has acted affirmatively and purposefully to
extinguish the underlying claim." Mummert, at
221-22, 77 A.3d at 1057. We reasoned that in a statute of
limitations defense, "there may be no evidence
necessarily that the decedent intended to allow the statute
of limitations to run[.]" Id.
thereafter, relied on Mummert in their brief to the
Court of Special Appeals, asserting that the narrow holding
regarding the limitations defense, did not preclude their
res judicata defense that Dylan's pursuit of a
judgment during his lifetime extinguished Respondents'
wrongful death action under the express provisions in the
wrongful death statute. On November 21, 2013, the Court of
Special Appeals directed the parties to file memoranda
addressing the application of Mummert. In those
filings, both parties disputed whether Mummert was
dispositive of the matter before us.
of Special Appeals Opinion
unreported opinion filed on August 7, 2015, the Court of
Special Appeals reversed the circuit court's judgment
granting Petitioners' Motion to Dismiss Respondents'
wrongful death action; remanded the case for further
proceedings; and held that that Respondents' wrongful
death action was not barred by a judgment in Dylan's
personal injury action. McQuitty v. Spangler, No.
2375 Sept. Term 2012, 2015 WL 5822059 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.
Aug. 7, 2015). The Court concluded that both parties
overstated the impact of its holding on the circumstances
presented. The Court reasoned:
First, Mummert does not mandate a holding in favor
of [Respondents]. The Mummert Court held that not
all defenses to a decedent's personal injury
claim would bar a subsequent wrongful death action, but did
not hold that every such defense lost its preclusive
effect. The only defense vis-a-vis the decedent's claim
that Mummert expressly removed from the arsenal of
the wrongful death defendant is the expiration of the
limitations period in the decedent's personal injury
claim. The Court restricted its holding to the facts before
it, and made no specific comment on which other defenses, if
any, may no longer preclude subsequent wrongful death
The fact that some defenses vis-a-vis a decedent's claim
maintain their preclusive effect after Mummert,
however, does not compel a holding for [Petitioners].
Instead, Mummert raises the following question
relevant to the matter sub judice: Is a judgment in
favor of the decedent in his personal injury action similar
to the defenses that Mummert upheld, namely,
defenses barring such personal injury action from the outset?
In answering that question, we are unpersuaded by
[Petitioners] analogy of a pre-existing judgment in favor of
Dylan to the defenses upheld in Mummert, and
conclude instead that the rationale expressed by the Court of
Appeals in that case supports a holding in favor of
McQuitty, 2015 WL 5822059, at *7 (internal citations
omitted) (emphasis in original).
premise, the Court also concluded that a successful judgment
in favor of a decedent in a personal injury action was
distinguishable from the defenses recognized in
Mummert, as barring a subsequent wrongful death
action. The Court stated:
A judgment in Dylan's favor on his personal injury claim
is not a bar to that claim-it is the ultimate validation of
the claim. The preclusive effect of such judgment flows from
the principles of res judicata. Here, res
judicata does not bar [Respondents'] wrongful death
action, because res judicata only applies to actions
between the same plaintiffs and defendants.
Id. at *7-8. As a result, the Court rejected
Petitioners' argument that Dylan's "affirmative
and purposeful conduct" in pursuing a judgment against
them barred Respondents' wrongful death action, and
reasoned that Dylan's pursuit of his claim was not a
release or settlement. See id. The Court also
disagreed with Petitioners contention that permitting the
wrongful death action would result in double recovery.
See id. at *8. The Court opined that the potential
for overlapping damages should not "absolutely bar"
subsequent wrongful death actions, because any overlap could
be resolved on a case-by-case, damages-by-damages basis in
the circuit court. Id. at *9. The Court,
nonetheless, concluded that the risks associated with a
double recovery did not exist in the case at bar:
Although Dylan recovered damages for the loss of future
earnings, [Respondents] cannot recover damages for those
earnings in a wrongful death action, because '[p]arents
may recover a pecuniary value for the loss of an employed
deceased minor child's future earnings, at least to the
date the deceased would have become an adult, had he/she
Id. at *10 (citations omitted). In support of this
conclusion, the Court observed that Dylan was not employed at
the time of his death, and that the only other damages
recoverable by Respondents in their wrongful death action
were solatium damages,  which were personal to them and not
recoverable by Dylan. See id. We, thereafter,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
this Court reviews a circuit court's grant of a motion to
dismiss, we "must assume the truth of, and view in a
light most favorable to the non-moving party, all
well-pleaded facts and allegations contained in the
complaint, as well as all inferences that may reasonably be
drawn [therefrom.]" McHale v. DCW Dutchship Island,
LLC, 415 Md. 145, 155, 999 A.2d 969, 975 (2010) (quoting
RRC Northeast, LLC v. BAA Md., Inc., 413 Md. 638,
643, 994 A.2d 430, 433 (2010)). We analyze the circuit
court's decision to determine whether it was legally
correct, and "order dismissal only if the allegations
and permissible inferences, if true, would not afford relief
to the plaintiff, i.e., the allegations do not state
a cause of action for which relief may be granted."
McHale, 415 Md. at 155, 999 A.2d at 975 (quoting
RRC Northeast, 413 Md. at 643, 994 A.2d at 433).
Relevant provisions of Maryland's current wrongful death
wrongful death statute allows the maintenance of an action
"against a person whose wrongful act causes the death of
another." Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3–902(a).
"Wrongful act" is defined as "an act, neglect,
or default including a felonious act which would have
entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover
damages if death had not ensued." Cts. & Jud. Proc.
§ 3–901(e). The primary beneficiaries of a
wrongful death action are the spouse, parent, and child of
the decedent. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3–
904(a)(1). However, relatives by blood or marriage who
substantially relied upon the decedent, are also eligible
claimants. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-904(b). Where the
decedent is a spouse, minor child, parent of a minor child,
or an unmarried child that is not a minor, the wrongful death
statute provides damages for "pecuniary losses, "
if any, in addition to damages for "mental anguish,
emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship,
comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial
care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or
education where applicable. . . ." Cts. & Jud. Proc.
Maryland's wrongful death statute creates a new and
independent cause of action for a decedent's
determinative issue in the case at bar is whether, under the
definition of "wrongful act" in Cts. & Jud.
Proc. § 3-901(e), a wrongful death action is derivative,
or independent of, a decedent's prior personal injury
claim, where the decedent obtained a judgment based on the
same underlying facts. Thus, a resolution requires this Court
to revisit the interpretation of the language contained in
Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-901(e), which provides:
'Wrongful act' means an act, neglect, or default
including a felonious act which would have entitled the party
injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death
had not ensued.
argue that Respondents' wrongful death action is
derivative of Dylan's personal injury action and
therefore, barred by res judicata, since Dylan would
not be entitled to a double recovery if death had not ensued.
Conversely, Respondents allege that their wrongful death
action is a new and independent cause of action, only subject
to the condition that Dylan possessed a viable claim at the
outset, and therefore, not subject to a res judicata
that the Maryland wrongful death statute provides a new and
independent cause of action, which does not preclude a
subsequent action brought by a decedent's beneficiaries,
although the decedent obtained a personal injury judgment
based essentially on the same underlying facts during his or
her lifetime. The parties' arguments focus primarily on
the definition of "wrongful act, " specifically the
phrase, "if death had not ensued." To discern the
meaning of this phrase, we apply the long-standing canons of
cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and
effectuate the intent of the [General Assembly].'"
Rosemann v. Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder &
Adkins, LLC, 412 Md. 308, 314, 987 A.2d 48, 52 (2010)
(citation omitted). "'Statutory construction begins
with the plain language of the statute, and ordinary, popular
understanding of the English language.'"
Id. at 314-15, 987 A.2d at 52 (citations omitted).
We, therefore, "'[n]either add nor delete language
so as to reflect an intent not evidenced in the plain
language of the statute; nor [do we] construe the statute
with forced or subtle interpretations that limit or extend
its application.'" Id. at 315, 987 A.2d at
52 (citations omitted).
this Court "reads the statute as a whole to ensure that
none of its provisions are rendered meaningless[, ] and [ ]
will not construe a statute to reach a result 'that is
unreasonable, illogical, or inconsistent with common
sense.'" Id. (citations omitted). "If
the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, we need
look no further than the language of the statute to ascertain
the [General Assembly's] intent." Id.
(citation omitted). However, "[w]hen the language of the
statute is subject to more than one interpretation, it is
ambiguous and we usually look beyond the statutory language
to the statute's legislative history, prior case law, the
statutory purpose, and the statutory structure as aids in
ascertaining the [General Assembly's] intent."
Id. (citations omitted). Under these circumstances,
"we also consider the consequences resulting from one
meaning rather than another, and adopt that construction
which avoids an illogical or unreasonable result, or one
which is inconsistent with common sense." Id.
at 315, 987 A.2d at 52-53 (internal quotations and citations
note an additional consideration that is relevant to the
issues presented- that "[s]tatutes in derogation of the
common law are strictly construed, and it is not to be
presumed that the [General Assembly] by creating statutory
assaults intended to make any alteration in the common law
other than what has been specified and plainly
pronounced." Cosby v. Dep't of Human Res.,
425 Md. 629, 645, 42 A.3d 596, 606 (2012) (citations
Interpreting Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-901(e) of the
Maryland wrongful death statute
extensive discussion, we acknowledge here, as in
Mummert, 435 Md. at 218, 77 A.3d at 1055, that when
read within the context of the statutory scheme, the language
of Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-901(e) is ambiguous because
a plain reading of the statute could lead to more than one
interpretation. See, e.g., Mummert, 435 Md.
at 218, 77 A.3d at 1055 (noting that the parties'
"dueling interpretations" regarding the plain
meaning of § 3-901(e), "serve quintessentially to
highlight the ambiguity in the statute's
language") (citing Reier v. State Dep't of
Assessments & Taxation, 397 Md. 2, 26-27, 915 A.2d
970, 985 (2007)) ("It strikes us that the competing
parties' argument present 'two . . . reasonable
alternative interpretations of the statute, ' making the
statute ambiguous.") (citation omitted).
ambiguity is reflected in the parties' arguments.
Petitioner contends that the definition of a wrongful act,
specifically as it pertains to the phrase "if death had
not ensued[, ]" leads to a conclusion that "a
settlement and/or judgment in a personal injury matter in
one's lifetime" bars subsequent pursuit of a
wrongful death claim.
disagree, see supra, and on related grounds, aver
that "[b]ecause Dylan had a viable claim from the
outset, " Petitioners' interpretation of the statute
"would lead to illogical and absurd results."
Specifically, Respondents assert that "if Dylan had died
before the entry of judgment in his favor on September 29,
2006, " their wrongful death action "could have
proceeded without the bar of res judicata." In
Respondents' view, an argument that "Dylan lived to
see his personal injury claims vindicated by a jury forfeited
[their] right to recover their own separate and distinct
damages arising from his death[, ] leads to an outcome that
is "entirely inconsistent with the purpose of the
[w]rongful [d]eath statute." We, therefore, look beyond
the statutory language of Cts. & Jud. Proc. §
3-901(e) to other sources in ascertaining legislative intent.
1852, Maryland enacted the wrongful death statute to remedy
the common law's unaccommodating treatment of a tort
victim's family. See Mummert, 435 Md. at 214-15,
77 A.2d at 1053; Walker v. Essex, 318 Md. 516, 569
A.2d 645, 648 (1990). Previously, common law denied tort
recovery for injury once the tort victim had died and any new
and independent cause of action by the victim's
beneficiaries were not recognized. Mummert, 435 Md.
at 214-15, 77 A.2d at 1053; W. Page Keaton, Prosser and
Keaton on Torts, § 127, at 945 (5th ed. 1984). The