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Parent-Child Immunity and Wrongful Death Claims

January 5, 2023

Grier v. Heidenberg, deals with a wrongful death claim brought by a minor’s mother after his unfortunate death after drowning in his father’s pool. 2022 Md. App. LEXIS 649, *31-32 (September Term 2022). In dealing with this case, the Court grappled with Maryland’s parent-child immunity and its application to wrongful death actions. Under Maryland law, generally, a minor child cannot maintain a civil action against its parent and a parent could not maintain a civil action against a minor child. With regard to automobile accidents, however, the Maryland Legislature enacted an exception codified in Courts & Jud. Proc. § 5-806, which states in relevant part:

The right of action by a parent or the estate of a parent against a child of the parent, or by a child or the estate of a child against a parent of the child, for wrongful death, personal injury, or property damage arising out of the operation of a motor vehicle, as defined in Title 11 of the Transportation Article, may not be restricted by the doctrine of parent-child immunity or by any insurance policy provisions, up to the limits of motor vehicle liability coverage or uninsured motor vehicle coverage.

There are a total of four exceptions to the parent-child immunity in Maryland. Outside of Courts & Jud. Proc. § 5-806, one of the other exceptions deals with when the tortfeasor commits criminal conduct thereby shattering any remaining familial relationships beyond further impairment by a lawsuit. In Grier v. Heidenberg, the incident did not involve either a car accident or criminal conduct. The mother of the deceased minor argued to abolish the parent-child immunity, which was summarily declined by the Court. Further, the minor child’s mother argued that since the child was deceased, there was no immunity precluding the mother from bringing a wrongful death action against the deceased minor’s father. To this end, the Court ruled that the death of a child does not nullify the parent-child immunity, and therefore precluded a wrongful death action on behalf of the minor against the minor’s father.