Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Case No. 24-C-16-001919
Meredith, Friedman, Eyler, Deborah S. (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned), JJ.
wrongful death of a child, no matter that child's age, is
an unimaginable loss. A jury found Shabbir Choudhry, M.D.,
liable for the wrongful death of Lolita Fowlkes'
daughter, 22-year-old Yenita Owens. As a result, the jury
awarded Fowlkes $500, 000 in noneconomic damages and $500,
000 in economic damages for the loss of Owens' services.
During trial, Fowlkes, who had lived with Owens since her
daughter's birth, testified that her daughter completed
various household chores for about two hours per day and that
she hoped to live with Owens forever. Choudhry twice moved
for judgment as to Fowlkes' damages claim for the loss of
Owens' services, but the Circuit Court for Baltimore City
denied the motions.
appeal, Choudhry asserts that the circuit court erred in
denying his motions for judgment as to Fowlkes' economic
damages claim. We agree. Accordingly, we reverse the $500,
000 jury award for the loss of Owens' services.
March 2013, 22-year-old Owens died from complications related
to necrotizing fasciitis, a severe infection in her leg and
groin area. As a result, Owens' mother, Fowlkes, filed a
wrongful death action against various medical providers who
treated Owens, including Choudhry.
trial, Fowlkes, then 44 years old, testified that Owens had
lived with her for Owens' entire life. Owens was born
when Fowlkes was 17 years old, and Fowlkes had raised Owens
as a single mother. Fowlkes testified that Owens was her best
relayed that, as Owens got older, she helped Fowlkes around
the house. Owens would clean the bathroom, wash dishes, mop
the floor, and vacuum. Fowlkes did not drive, and Owens would
drive Fowlkes to places like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club
using another family member's car. Fowlkes estimated that
Owens spent about two hours each day performing these tasks
for her. Fowlkes testified that if she could continue to live
with Owens, then she "was going to live with her
Fowlkes' case-in-chief, her counsel asked the court to
take judicial notice of life expectancy tables to assist the
jury in evaluating the joint life expectancy of Fowlkes and
Owens, pertinent to Fowlkes' claim for damages based on
the loss of Owens' services. Though counsel took the
position that the market value of the services Owens provided
to Fowlkes was within the common knowledge of the jurors,
counsel also asked the court to take judicial notice of the
minimum wage statute to provide a "baseline" value of
those services to the jury. The court denied both requests.
Concerning the life expectancy tables, the court said,
"I see no reason to take judicial notice of that because
I don't know what the life expectancy of this woman would
have been based on her medical condition." As to the minimum
wage statute, the court commented that if the value of the
services was within the jurors' common knowledge,
judicial notice was not necessary. The court pointed out that
counsel had "every right to argue to the trier of fact
what you believe the value of something is."
close of Fowlkes' case-in-chief, Choudhry moved for
judgment under Maryland Rule 2-519 as to Fowlkes' damages
claim for the loss of Owens' household services. Defense
counsel argued that the evidence Fowlkes presented was
insufficient as a matter of law to submit the damages claim
to the jury. The court denied the motion. At the close of all
the evidence, Choudhry renewed his motion for judgment as to
the damages claim for loss of household services, but the
court again denied the motion.
jury found Choudhry liable for Owens' death. The jury
then awarded Fowlkes $500, 000 in noneconomic damages and
$500, 000 in economic damages for the loss of Owens'
appeal, Choudhry challenges only the $500, 000 jury award for
economic damages described as "loss of services."
asserts that the trial court erred when it denied his motion
for judgment as to Fowlkes' damages claim for the loss of
household services for two reasons. First, he
contends that the household services that Fowlkes testified
Owens performed do not constitute a recoverable pecuniary
loss. Second, he asserts that even if such household
chores can be recovered as a pecuniary loss, Fowlkes
nonetheless presented insufficient evidence to support any
non-speculative damages award.
Maryland Rule 2-519, any "party may move for judgment on
any or all of the issues in any action at the close of the
evidence offered by an opposing party, and in a jury trial at
the close of all the evidence." Md. Rule 2-519(a). When
ruling on a motion for judgment in a jury trial, the trial
"court shall consider all evidence and inferences in the
light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is
made." Md. Rule 2-519(b). When reviewing the trial
court's denial of a motion for judgment, we "perform
the same task as the trial court, affirming the denial of the
motion if there is any evidence, no matter how slight, that
is legally sufficient to generate a jury question."
Prince George's Cty. v. Morales, 230 Md.App.
699, 711 (2016). Whether the types of services Owens
performed for Fowlkes constitute a recoverable pecuniary loss
is a question of law, which we review without deference to
the trial court. See U.S. v. Searle, 322 Md. 1, 4,
6-7 (1991); Khalifa v. Shannon, 404 Md. 107, 115
reasons discussed below, we hold that household services like
those Owens performed may be recoverable as a pecuniary loss
but that Fowlkes presented insufficient evidence to submit
her damages claim to the jury. Therefore, the trial court
should have granted Choudhry's motion for judgment, so we
reverse the $500, 000 economic damages award for the loss of
I. History and Background
The Wrongful Death Act Generally
start with a brief overview of the wrongful death statute.
"The wrongful death statute allows the decedent's
beneficiaries or relatives to recover damages for loss of
support or other benefits that would have been provided, had
the decedent not died as a result of another's
negligence." Spangler v. McQuitty, 449 Md 33,
53 (2016). Maryland initially adopted its wrongful death
statute in 1852, and until 1969, limited recovery to
pecuniary losses. Barrett v. Charlson, 18 Md.App.
80, 84-85 (1973). The statute has been amended over time to
increase the types of damages recoverable and the
beneficiaries who may recover damages for the wrongful death
of a family member. H. Kenneth Armstrong, et al., Maryland
Tort Damages 43-44 (Robert R. Michael, ed., 7th ed. 2015). It
is well established that the wrongful death statute now
allows a covered beneficiary to recover for both pecuniary
(i.e., economic) and nonpecuniary (often referred to as
noneconomic or solatium) damages resulting from the wrongful
death of a family member listed in the statute.
Spangler, 449 Md. at 69. Accordingly, a parent of an
adult child undisputedly may recover both types of damages
that arise from the wrongful death of an adult child. Md.
Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings ("CJ") §
Loss of Household Services as Economic Damages in a
Wrongful Death Action
to the concept of household services, we acknowledge that our
previous cases addressing the recovery of damages for a loss
of such services do not always provide trial courts and
litigants with clear, consistent guidance about what a
beneficiary must show to be entitled to such damages. Better
direction from the appellate courts is long overdue.
upon our review of Maryland case law and other persuasive
authority, we have derived the following 3-part rule for when
a beneficiary in a wrongful death action may recover economic
damages for the loss of household services. Specifically, we
conclude that a beneficiary must: (1) identify domestic
services that have a market value; (2) have reasonably
expected the decedent to provide the identified services,
which-absent the decedent's legal obligation to provide
the services-will typically require evidence showing that the
decedent was regularly providing ...