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Md. high court declines to address ‘parent-child immunity’

Maryland’s top court on Tuesday declined to decide whether the prohibition on minor children suing their parents survives the child’s death and bars a youngster’s estate from suing a parent for wrongful death.

The Court of Appeals’ refusal to address the breadth of the “parent-child immunity” doctrine came four days after it heard arguments in Timothy Heidenberg’s appeal of lower court decisions that his protection from suit expired when his 21-month-old son drowned in a swimming pool at the father’s house.

The high court did not explain its withdrawal from the appeal in its one-page order, stating only that it had “improvidently granted” Heidenberg’s request for review.

The Court of Appeals’ order sends the case back for trial at Howard County Circuit Court. There, Claudia Grier – the child’s mother and his estate’s personal representative – will be able to pursue a wrongful-death claim against Heidenberg, from whom she is estranged.

Grier’s attorney said Tuesday that he was “not surprised” by the high court’s decision to let the case proceed at this juncture.

“We anticipated that the court was going to return it to Howard County,” said Michael S. Warshaw, of Royston, Mueller, McLean & Reid LLP in Towson.

Heidenberg’s attorney, Lorraine Lawrence-Whittaker, declined to comment Tuesday. She is with Lawrence Whittaker P.C. in Ellicott City.

The appeal’s path to the high court began with Howard County Circuit Judge Timothy J. McCrone’s ruling in March 2018 permitting the estate of Michaelangelo Heidenberg to pursue a claim that the father’s negligence in not carefully watching his son led to the wrongful death.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld that pretrial decision, prompting Timothy Heidenberg’s request that the high court review the breadth of the prohibition on children suing their parents — and to do so before the potentially gut-wrenching wrongful-death trial proceeds.

The Court of Appeals issued its order – which allows the case to proceed — in Timothy Heidenberg v. Claudia Grier, No. 78, September Term 2018.


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