Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Most personal injury cases involve concepts that the average juror can grasp. For example, when two vehicles are involved in a Maryland car accident, a jury is normally capable of listening to the testimony from each party, weighing the evidence, and coming to a conclusion on their own.

Medical malpractice cases, however, often present complex scientific concepts that are beyond the common understanding of most jurors. Because of this, Maryland medical malpractice cases require expert testimony to establish that the defendant doctor’s conduct fell below the generally accepted standard of care. In Maryland, this requirement is embodied in the form of a mandatory pre-suit expert affidavit.

Not all cases that arise in the medical context, however, are considered medical malpractice cases that are subject to the additional requirements. A recent appellate opinion involved a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall claim against a doctor. In that case, the court determined that the plaintiff’s case was not a medical malpractice case.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that illustrates the importance of proper expert witness selection in Maryland medical malpractice cases. The case illustrates the importance of selecting an expert whose methodologies are reliable and generally accepted in the medical community.

Expert witnesses are crucial in medical malpractice lawsuits. Indeed, within 90 days of filing a case, medical malpractice plaintiffs are required to consult with an expert and obtain a certificate of merit stating that, in the expert’s opinion, the defendant’s conduct fell below the generally accepted standard of care.

Once a certificate of merit is obtained, an expert’s services are still almost always required at trial to establish that the care provided by the defendant was inadequate. This is because most jurors do not have the necessary knowledge of the field of medicine or the medical profession to make an educated decision on such scientific and specialized issues. However, like all evidence, an expert’s testimony must meet certain criteria in order to be considered.

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The document that initiates a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit against a defendant is called the complaint. Under Maryland law, a plaintiff’s complaint must be drafted according to guidelines. For example, a complaint must contain sufficiently specific allegations to put the defendant on notice regarding the lawsuit and how they were alleged to have been negligent. A recent case illustrates how one plaintiff’s failure to draft a sufficiently specific complaint resulted in a jury verdict in her favor being reversed.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, a breast cancer survivor, was scheduled to have reconstructive surgery performed by the defendant. However, due to the radiation used to treat the cancer, there were risks involved with the procedure. The defendant discussed the risks with the plaintiff, and initially the plaintiff agreed to proceed with surgery on both breasts.

The plaintiff claims that she later changed her mind and revoked consent to operate on her left breast, citing concerns over the radiation. The plaintiff still wanted to proceed with reconstructive surgery on her right breast.

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Over the last century, the development of modern medicine has resulted in not just a decrease in the mortality rate of infants but also in the ability to determine whether an unborn child will suffer from a serious, life-altering abnormality. Through diligent testing and a thorough analysis of a couple’s medical history, doctors are now able to advise parents about which, if any, conditions their offspring may be at risk of developing.

Given the advances made in the medical field and the current ability to intervene to avoid the birth of a child who will suffer from a debilitating, life-long incurable disease, the duty physicians owe to their patients has grown to include advising patients about their specific risks. If a physician fails to advise a patient of these risks, and the patient gives birth to a child with a serious disease that would have been detectable through proper testing, a wrongful birth lawsuit may be appropriate. A recent case illustrates what a wrongful birth case is and how a plaintiff can go about proving one.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were a couple who gave birth to a child with severe disabilities. During the pregnancy, an ultrasound was conducted that displayed congenital abnormalities; however, the plaintiffs’ doctor failed to inform the plaintiffs about these defects. The plaintiffs claimed that they would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy had they been made aware of the risks involved with carrying the pregnancy full-term.

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Anyone who has spent a few hours watching old courtroom T.V. dramas likely remembers the climactic moments when – after a long, drawn-out trial – one of the parties presents a surprise witness that completely makes their case. Well, in reality, surprise witnesses are for the most part a thing of the past, due to the current discovery rules.

During the pre-trial discovery phase of a trial, both parties are required to present the other party with a list of witnesses they intend to call. While adjustments can be made along the way, courts generally frown upon presenting a “surprise” witness unless certain circumstances are present. A recent case illustrates how a medical malpractice plaintiff was prevented from having one of his witnesses testify because he failed to disclose her identity during discovery.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was paralyzed after he underwent a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctor. The plaintiff filed this medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, claiming that the doctor’s negligence resulted in his paralysis.

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Earlier this month, a Vermont appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death by medical malpractice case, involving allegations that a doctor was negligent in prescribing multiple doses of opioid medications to a patient who later died from ingesting a lethal combination of prescription and non-prescription medication. However, the court did not reach the issue of whether the doctor was negligent because the plaintiff failed to file the required certificate of merit in a timely fashion. As a result of the plaintiff’s failure to file the certificate of merit, the case was dismissed.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a woman who had died after she ingested a lethal combination of prescription and non-prescription medication. The prescription medication that the woman had taken was prescribed to her by the defendant physician. After learning about her loved one’s cause of death, the plaintiff filed this wrongful death lawsuit against the prescribing physician.

The case was filed three days before the statute of limitations was set to expire. However, when the plaintiff filed her case, she did not attach a certificate of merit, which is a document certified by another doctor or medical expert stating that, in the expert’s opinion, the plaintiff’s case has merit.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice lawsuit, affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims based on the plaintiff’s failure to establish that the defendants’ allegedly negligent actions caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Specifically, the court held that since the medical experts called by the plaintiff could not testify to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, their opinion failed to establish causation.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was scheduled to have a robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy (RALP), which was to be performed by the defendants. On the day of the surgery, the plaintiff was positioned with his hands placed behind his back. During the surgery, none of the defendants repositioned the plaintiff’s body, and the surgery was completed after about 9.5 hours.

After the surgery, the plaintiff complained of pain in both of his shoulders and arms. He was later diagnosed with compartment syndrome in his right arm. A subsequent surgery was performed to relieve the pressure, but the plaintiff never regained the full use of his right arm.

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All personal injury plaintiffs must follow strict procedural rules when filing their case. However, medical malpractice cases in particular are subject to a different set of rules that, if ignored, may result in the early dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case. For example, medical malpractice cases in Maryland must be accompanied by a “Certificate of Merit.” A certificate of merit is a document filled out by a medical professional in the field of the alleged negligence, stating that there is a valid basis for the plaintiff’s case.

In addition, Maryland medical malpractice cases are required to be brought with a certain period of time. In most cases, this is within three years of the alleged act of negligence. However, if a patient does not discover their injury until a later date, the patient has up to five years to file their case. In any event, the procedural rules in Maryland medical malpractice cases can be burdensome for plaintiffs and may even result in the dismissal of cases.

Doctors and hospitals are aware of these strict rules, and they may try to characterize any case even tangentially involving a doctor or hospital as a medical malpractice case in hopes of creating additional difficulties for the plaintiff. A recent case illustrates how a slip-and-fall accident was characterized as a medical malpractice case by a state appellate court.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that illustrates how important it is for parties to object to perceived errors as they occur. In the recent case, the court held that a defendant hospital’s failure to object to the plaintiff’s untimely payment of a mandatory filing fee prevented the court from reviewing the defendant’s claim on appeal that the untimely payment deprived the court of jurisdiction.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a man who had become quadriplegic and then died after being treated at the defendant hospital. Initially, the man himself brought a lawsuit against the hospital, alleging that the hospital was responsible for his quadriplegia. However, while the jury determined that the hospital was negligent in treating the man, it also found that the hospital’s negligence was not the cause of the man’s quadriplegia.

Shortly after the initial trial, the man died. After his death, additional evidence was discovered indicating that the hospital’s negligence may have actually been the cause of the man’s quadriplegia and subsequent death. The current plaintiff was then named the plaintiff, and the case was changed to a wrongful death case. As a part of this process, the plaintiff was required to pay court filing costs by a certain date.

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Earlier this month, one state’s appellate court issued a written opinion in a plaintiff’s case against the hospital where he was injured when he fell off a gurney while being transported. In the case, Nava v. Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, the court determined that the plaintiff’s injury was “related to” his medical care, and therefore he should have complied with the stricter one-year statute of limitations. Since the plaintiff filed his lawsuit after the one-year period, he will not be entitled to compensation for his injuries.

The Facts

Nava was a patient at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center. One day in February 2012, when hospital staff was transporting Nava, the gurney he was being carried on tipped to one side, causing Nava to fall onto the floor. As a result of the fall, Nava suffered fractures to his clavicle and patella.

In February 2014, a few days before the two-year anniversary of his injury, Nava filed a personal injury lawsuit against the hospital. In his jurisdiction, the statute of limitations for ordinary negligence was two years, so Nava thought his lawsuit was timely. However, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits was one year. In response to the case filed against it, Saddleback argued that the case should be considered a medical malpractice lawsuit, and it was filed too late.

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