Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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.

Among a judge’s many roles is the responsibility to instruct the jury on the applicable law of the case. Generally speaking, a judge has discretion in how the jury is instructed; however, a judge’s instructions must accurately state the law. A recent Maryland medical malpractice case presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals illustrates the broad discretion trial judges have when deciding how to instruct the jury.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited the defendant doctor, complaining of numbness in two of his fingers. The doctor recommended surgery, and the plaintiff agreed. The defendant doctor performed the surgery, however, afterward the plaintiff developed a serious infection at the surgical site. The infection resulted in long-term pain and a reduced range-of-motion.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctor. After the conclusion of both party’s evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury on several issues, including the law governing the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims against the defendant. The court began by providing the jury with the general negligence instructions, and the followed with the more specific medical malpractice instructions on the issue of informed consent. The defendant objected to the judge providing the general negligence instructions, arguing that it only misled the jury because the plaintiff’s case was not based on a theory of traditional negligence.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case illustrating the importance of meticulously following the procedural requirements of a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit. Specifically, the case involved a plaintiff’s failure to provide sworn expert testimony.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff scheduled a knee surgery at the defendant medical center. Shortly after the operation was completed, the plaintiff began to suffer shortness of breath. One of the defendant doctors placed the plaintiff on oxygen and ordered an X-ray. The plaintiff was subsequently discharged. A few days later, the plaintiff returned complaining of shortness of breath. The plaintiff was diagnosed with pneumonia and exhibited signs that she had suffered a stroke.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice case against several of the medical providers, as well as the medical center. The defendants moved for summary judgment based on the plaintiff’s failure to attach any sworn expert testimony. The plaintiff responded by providing the name of an expert witness she expected to testify and a brief unsworn summary of what the expert’s testimony would cover. The defendants argued that the unsworn summary was not sufficient, and sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.

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Under Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 3-2C-02, a Maryland medical malpractice claim “shall be dismissed … if the claimant fails to file a certificate of a qualified expert with the court.” This requirement was initially implemented to deter the filing of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits and to ensure that meritorious claims are heard expediently. However, over time the requirement has become the focus of significant litigation as medical professionals routinely attempt to use it as a defense to any claim made against them.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing the expert-affidavit requirement. Ultimately, the court concluded that the alleged negligence of the medical professional was not “directly involved” or “proximate” to the procedure the plaintiff was undergoing. Thus, the court held that the requirement did not apply.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was scheduled to have a hysterectomy. Before the surgery began, the defendant anesthesiologist attempted to intubate the plaintiff. However, while the defendant was in the process of intubating the plaintiff, the power went out. While the lights were out, the defendant allegedly dropped a medical tool on the plaintiff’s tooth, chipping it.

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In Maryland medical malpractice lawsuits, the plaintiff must follow certain procedures that are not required of other personal injury plaintiffs. Primarily, this consists of filing a compliant certificate of merit.

Under Maryland Code section 3-2C-01, the certificate of merit must contain a statement from an expert who is “knowledgeable in the accepted standard of care in the same discipline as the licensed professional against whom a claim is filed.” The affidavit must contain a statement that the defendant doctor’s care was a departure from the applicable standard of care and that the defendant’s breach of this duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The objective of the certificate of merit requirement is to ensure that only meritorious claims are filed and pursued. However, occasionally, the requirement can get in the way of even meritorious claims. As a recent opinion illustrates, a simple misstep by a plaintiff can result in the dismissal of their lawsuit.

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