Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves between a person’s neck and shoulders that control one’s chest, shoulders, arms, and hands. A brachial plexus injury occurs if the nerves are stretched, compressed, or torn. A brachial plexus injury can occur during a birth, and a brachial plexus birth injury occurs in about one to three of every one thousand births. An injury can cause a loss of muscle function and even paralysis of the upper arm. Brachial plexus injuries can be the basis for a negligence claim in some Maryland birth injury cases.

A state appellate court recently decided a case involving brachial plexus injury that occurred during the course of a delivery. In that case, the mother was being treated by an obstetrician for her pregnancy. The obstetrician advised inducing labor because the mother was diabetic, in order to minimize any possible issues. The mother went forward with the elective induction. During the delivery, the doctor found that the baby’s shoulder was lodged against the mother’s public bone, and that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. The obstetrician performed maneuvers to dislodge the baby’s shoulder in order to deliver the child, and the baby suffered a permanent brachial plexus injury.

A claim of negligence was filed by the parents against the obstetrician. They argued that the obstetrician failed to exercise ordinary care while delivering the plaintiffs’ baby, thereby causing the baby’s brachial plexus injury. The jury found the obstetrician was negligent and awarded the family $2.7 million in damages. However, before and after the trial, the obstetrician argued that the parents had to prove the higher standard of willful and wanton negligence because the obstetrician was providing emergency medical care at the time. Under a state statute, in cases involving the provision of emergency medical care, a plaintiff is required to prove willful and wanton negligence.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered whether a spouse could be added to a wrongful death claim after the statute of limitations had expired. In that case, a man was transported to a hospital via ambulance after he began bleeding from the area where he was receiving dialysis treatment. He died three days later. The man’s wife initially did not want to participate in the lawsuit and the man’s children sued several medical providers for wrongful death. The defendants argued that the case should be dismissed because the spouse was not a plaintiff in the suit. Under the state’s wrongful death statute, children can only bring a wrongful death claim if the deceased person does not have a surviving spouse. After the statute of limitations had passed, the plaintiffs attempted to add the wife to the claim. The trial court dismissed the suit against certain defendants because the wife had not filed the claim, but allowed it to continue against the providers.

The appeals court ruled that the court should have allowed the wife to be added. The court held that in this case, the amendment adding the spouse to the lawsuit after the expiration of the statute of limitation related back to the original complaint because it arose out of the same occurrence and the defendant would not be prejudiced. The court stated that a delay in filing was not enough to deny the amendment of the spouse. Therefore, the trial court should have added the wife to the case, and the court reinstated the case.

Possible Plaintiffs Under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Statute

When Maryland or Virginia residents are injured because of medical malpractice, the laws of the states allow them to file suit to recover against negligent medical professionals. This process can be incredibly complicated, and virtually all plaintiffs must rely on expert witnesses to make their case. Expert witnesses can testify to the court about how the injuries happened, what the defendant should or should not have done, the appropriate industry standards in a particular area, or the extent of the resulting injuries.

Recently, a Virginia appellate court considered a case involving a question of whether a plaintiff’s expert witness testimony survived a defendant’s motion to strike. After the plaintiff presents their evidence, the defendant may file a motion to strike the evidence from the record (or vice versa). If granted, it means that the court or jury cannot consider that evidence in their final decision.

In the recently decided case, the court began by describing the tragic facts. The patient, during her first pregnancy, had an incompetent cervix and had a cervical cerclage surgically placed. About a week after placement, the patient reported discomfort and pain in her abdomen, legs, and lower back to her doctor, who dismissed her concerns. Two days later, she called back about her pain and a new fever, and her doctor prescribed her some medicine via the phone, with no physical examination. Unfortunately, the patient continued to experience symptoms and called again, getting a different doctor who again prescribed her medicine via the phone, without a physical examination. Several hours later, the patient called back, and was finally directed to the hospital, where it was discovered that she had a severe infection. Her condition worsened in the hospital, and unfortunately, she passed away in the intensive care unit several days later.

Proving that a certain act is legally negligent in a Maryland medical malpractice claim hinges on the testimony of an expert witness. This is because many medical decisions are difficult for nonmedical professionals to evaluate, and expert testimony helps the jurors understand the potentially complex issues involved in a case. In fact, lawmakers have determined that expert testimony is required to successfully bring a medical malpractice claim.

Under the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Act, a plaintiff has to file a Certificate of Qualified Expert within 90 days of the filling of the claim. A plaintiff has to prove that a health care professional failed to meet the standards of practice among members of the same health care profession with similar training and experience. The Certificate of Qualified Expert is an attestation from a qualified health care provider . . . that the care provided was “not in accordance with the standards of practice among members of the same health care profession with similar training and experience situated in the same or similar communities” at the time of the acts in question. A court can review a certificate and determine whether it meets the requirements under the statute.

The expert health care provider must have had qualified experience in the defendant’s specialty, related health care field, or in the field that the defendant provided care or treatment within 5 years of the acts in question. Maryland also has a law that an expert may not devote more than 20 percent of the expert’s professional time to activities that involve providing testimony in personal injury claims. The following example shows the importance of understanding the standards required of health care providers to weigh a provider’s choices.

Recently the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion stemming from a medical malpractice lawsuit against a plastic surgeon. The court addressed two common issues concerning expert witnesses and abuse of discretion that frequently occur in Maryland medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to the court’s opinion, the doctor performed a cosmetic procedure, a blepharoplasty, designed to remove puffiness and fat from the eyelids. Following the surgery, the plaintiff discovered that she was functionally blind in one eye after suffering permanent injury to her levator muscle. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, alleging that he negligently performed the surgery. At trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her compensatory damages. The defendant appealed the ruling, arguing, among other issues, that the plaintiff should not have been permitted to cross-examine his medical expert on his disciplinary history.

In Maryland, plaintiffs must have a medical expert witness to support their medical malpractice lawsuit. Moreover, plaintiffs are entitled to cross-examine a defense’s expert witness. Generally, under Maryland law, an expert witness must have, clinical experience, previous consultations related to clinical practice, and taught medicine in the defendant’s specialty within five years of the negligent action. After a medical expert agrees to testify, they must obtain a Certificate of Merit. During testimony, a plaintiff is permitted to cross-examine an expert witness. Maryland Rule 5-702, mirrors the Frye standard, which allows expert testimony if it will enable the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine an issue. Additionally, if a party objects to testimony, the court will weigh the testimony’s probative value versus its prejudicial effect to determine whether admitting the testimony is appropriate.

A Maryland Appellate Court recently issued a written opinion discussing the heightened standard for proving gross negligence in a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit. According to the court’s opinion, in early March of 2011, the victim woke up around one in the morning with chest pains. The victim’s wife called 9-1-1, reporting the chest pain and her husband’s difficulty breathing and speaking. The defendants, first responders, arrived on the scene shortly after, asked the victim about his symptoms, and did a visual assessment, concluding that he should be taken to the ambulance for further assessment. The victim walked to the ambulance himself without the aid of a stretcher. Once inside the ambulance, the defendants checked his vitals, which all appeared normal. The defendants then determined they would take him to the nearest hospital.

Approximately seven minutes after first arriving on the victim’s street, the defendants took him to the hospital. According to the defendants, the victim was comfortable and talkative during the three-minute drive. At the hospital, while waiting in the emergency room, the victim’s condition seemed to worsen, and the victim held his chest and complained about the pain for five to ten minutes until he ultimately became unconscious. At this point, he was taken immediately to receive treatment, and the defendants left the hospital and went back to work. The victim ultimately could not be resuscitated and died of a heart attack.

Maryland law allows surviving family members to seek compensation for a tragedy, and the victim’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the defendant first responders. Under Maryland law, to be successful in a claim against a first responder, the plaintiffs must prove gross negligence, as opposed to simple negligence. Gross negligence, according to the court’s opinion, is a high bar to prove. Simple negligence is falling below the ordinary level of care that a reasonable individual would use in a similar situation. Gross negligence, on the other hand, is an intentional and reckless disregard of the consequences of one’s actions or how they may affect others. This is a difficult standard, and to be considered gross negligence the conduct must be extraordinary or outrageous.

A patient who suffers physical, emotional, or financial injuries due to the negligence of a hospital worker or medical professional may file a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit against the entity or individual. Medical professionals include doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, physician’s assistants, and all other healthcare workers.

A medical professional’s injurious, negligent act or omission can lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most frequently, these lawsuits stem from negligent health management, diagnostic or treatment errors, or inadequate aftercare. Some common examples of medical malpractice include failures to diagnose or misdiagnosis, misread or fabricated laboratory results, unnecessary surgery, surgical errors, early discharges, and disregarding patient history and concerns.

To establish a medical malpractice claim, a victim must prove four distinct elements. First, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the medical professional violated their standard of care. Certain standards are considered appropriate by the medical community at large. When a medical professional violates this standard of care, then legal negligence may be established. Next, the victim must be able to prove that they suffered an injury due to the defendant’s negligence. To do so, a plaintiff must show that their injury would not have occurred but for the actions of the healthcare worker. A plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of their injury. Finally, the victim must be able to prove that the harm caused them significant damages. Significant damages encompass things such as, disability, unusual or significant pain, suffering, hardship, and costly medical bills.

The strength of a Maryland personal injury claim is irrelevant if the court dismisses a plaintiff’s case based on their failure to comply with certain court rules or procedures. Thus, it is critical that anyone considering bringing a personal injury lawsuit discuss their case with a knowledgeable Maryland injury lawyer.

A recent federal appellate decision illustrates the court’s ability to effectively eliminate a plaintiff’s opportunity to recover for their injuries if the plaintiff does not abide by the court’s orders. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of a surgery she underwent at a hospital. The plaintiff brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital, and several of the doctors who helped with the procedure.

After the defendants filed their answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, the court entered a scheduling order outlining the important deadlines in the case. Three of the deadlines that were pertinent to this appeal were:

On July 11, 2019, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that raises an interesting and important issue for those who are considering filing a Maryland medical malpractice case. Specifically, the case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s evidence proved that the defendant’s conduct breached the duty he owed to the plaintiff’s daughter.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the mother of a baby who was born with severe brain damage. Evidently, when the baby was born, she exhibited signs of respiratory distress. The hospital where the baby was born did not have a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Thus, it was common for hospital staff to transfer babies in need of serious medical attention to the nearest NICU.

The doctor overseeing the baby’s care, however, determined that the baby could be appropriately cared for at the hospital’s “Max Care Nursery.” After monitoring the baby for a few hours with no improvement, the doctor consulted with another specialist. The specialist took the baby under his care and eventually transferred the baby to the nearest NICU. As a result of respiratory distress, the baby suffered severe brain damage. The plaintiff filed claims against all doctors who treated her child, as well as the hospital. However, only the doctor overseeing the baby’s care remained, as all other defendants settled with the plaintiff.

While all personal injury cases are subject to certain procedural rules, the rules that apply to medical malpractice cases are perhaps the strictest. For example, Maryland medical malpractice cases are subject to strict timelines and require plaintiffs to provide an expert affidavit explaining that the plaintiff’s claim has merit.

Because Maryland medical malpractice cases are subject to strict rules, there is often litigation as to whether a plaintiff’s claim is being brought under a theory of medical malpractice or if it is a claim of simple negligence. In almost all cases, the plaintiff will claim that the case is one of simple negligence, while the defendant will argue the case involves a claim of medical malpractice. If a defendant can convince the court that the plaintiff’s claim is one of medical malpractice, it may be too late for the plaintiff to comply with the procedural requirements, thereby defeating the claim entirely.

While the specific factors used by the courts to resolve these disputes are complex, the determination essentially comes down to whether the plaintiff is making a claim of professional negligence and, if so, whether the claims present issues that are beyond the common understanding of most jurors. A recent opinion illustrates that it is not always easy to determine whether a case is brought under a theory of medical malpractice or traditional negligence.

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