Choudhry v. Fowlkes, No. 1148, Sept. Term, 2017 (filed Nov. 1, 2019) (Judges Meredith, FRIEDMAN & Eyler (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned))
In 2013, 22-year-old Yenita Owens died from complications related to a severe infection in her leg. Owens' mother, Lolita Fowlkes, whom Owens lived with before her death, filed a wrongful death action against various medical providers who treated her daughter, including Dr. Shabbir Choudhry. Fowlkes sought both economic and non-economic damages for the loss of her daughter's services. These services included various household chores performed by Owens, such as washing dishes, vacuuming, and running errands. At trial, Fowlkes testified that Owens would perform these tasks for roughly 2 hours per day, that she had raised Owens as a single mother, and that she planned to live with Owens forever.
Choudhry moved three times for judgment as to Fowlkes' claim for damages for the loss of Owens’ services. The trial court denied all three motions. After deliberation, the jury found in Fowlkes’ favor and awarded her $500,000 in non-economic damages and $500,000 in economic damages for Owens' loss of service.
Choudhry appealed and argued that: (1) the household services that Fowlkes testified Owens performed do not constitute a recoverable pecuniary loss; and (2) even if such household chores can be recovered as a pecuniary loss, Fowlkes nonetheless presented insufficient evidence to support any non-speculative damages award. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with Choudhry and reversed the trial court's decision.
Under the wrongful death statute, a covered beneficiary may recover for both pecuniary (i.e., economic) and non-pecuniary (i.e., non-economic) damages resulting from the wrongful death of a family member listed in the statute. See Spangler v. McQuitty, 449 Md. 33 (2016). To recover economic damages for the loss of household service, 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 the services in the past; and (3) present some evidence concerning the duration the decedent would have likely provided the services. See United States v. Searle, 322 Md. 1, 7 (1991); Balt. & O. R. Co. v. State, 63 Md. 135, 145-46 (1885); Emp'rs Liab. Assurance Corp. v. Balt. & O. R. Co., 173 Md. 238, 244 (1937).
In this case, the Court of Special Appeals found that Fowlkes failed the meet the third element required to prove economic damages for the loss of household services. While Fowlkes did testify that Owens performed various household chores for 2 hours a day, she failed to specify the length of time that Owens had been engaging in daily household chores. She also failed to provide evidence to support her assertion that Owens planned to live with Fowlkes indefinitely and would, therefore, continue to provide household services daily. Thus, while Fowlkes may recover both types of damages that arise from the wrongful death of Owens, she failed to provide sufficient evidence to submit her damages claim to the jury.
--Jahnee Waller, Law Clerk