Maryland Court of Special Appeals Dismisses Medical Malpractice Case Due to Lack of Qualified Expert

A trial court dismissed a man’s medical malpractice suit against three doctors, ruling that he did not file a certificate of qualified expert (“Certificate”) that comported with state law. The plaintiff in Hinebaugh v. Garrett County Memorial Hospital, et al appealed on both the substance of the dismissal and on the question of whether the court could dismiss the suit before the parties had conducted any discovery. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the dismissal, finding that the plaintiff’s Certificate was inadequate, and that formal discovery was not necessary for the plaintiff to meet the statutory requirements for qualifying an expert witness.

The plaintiff sustained injuries to his left cheek and jaw on August 12, 2006 after being hit in the face when he was a 22 year-old inmate in a local jail. He was first seen by Dr. P. Daniel Miller, an osteopath practicing family medicine, who ordered simple x-rays of his facial bones. Dr. Miller and two radiologists, Drs. H. Stan Lambert and James K. Benjamin, examined the x-rays and reportedly found no “radiographic abnormalities.”

After the plaintiff was released from jail, he went to a different doctor on August 27. That doctor ordered a maxillofacial CT scan and found a “left supraorbital fracture with displacement.” He referred the plaintiff to an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon (OMS). The plaintiff eventually underwent surgery on his cheek and jaw.

The plaintiff filed a claim in the state’s Health Care ADR Office in August 2009 against Drs. Miller, Lambert, and Benjamin. He alleged various breaches of the doctors’ standards of care, including failure to order a CT scan or consult with specialists. He claimed that these breaches caused him to need “extensive intrusive surgical procedures” and sought compensation for medical expenses, past and future lost wages, and pain and suffering. The plaintiff filed a Certificate and a report by John Mitcherling, D.D.S., identifying him as an OMS specialist with at least five years’ clinical experience similar to that of the three respondent doctors. Dr. Mitcherling stated an opinion that the doctors had breached various standards of care by failing to perform certain diagnostic tests.

Drs. Miller, Lambert, and Benjamin waived arbitration, and the case proceeded to a lawsuit, with Garrett County Memorial Hospital (GCMH) and Alllegany Imaging added as the defendants’ employers. The defendants quickly moved to strike the Certificate and dismiss the lawsuit for failing to meet the requirements of the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act. Dr. Mitcherling had attested that an OMS specialist is one of the few medical professionals qualified to treat facial bone injuries. The defendant doctors attested that they were all board-certified in their fields, and that Dr. Mitcherling’s expertise was not relevant to those fields. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice.

The Court of Special Appeals, in affirming the trial court’s ruling, found that state law requires an expert’s field to be “sufficiently related” to the fields involved in the lawsuit. Dr. Mitcherling’s OMS specialty, the court found, was not sufficiently related to the defendant doctors’ fields of family medicine and radiology. The standards of care in question were for those two fields, not OMS, and so Dr. Mitcherling’s Certificate was insufficient.

The lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people in Maryland injured due to the negligence or malpractice of medical professionals. Contact us today online or by calling (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Lawsuit Alleges Prison Nurse Denied Emergency Medical Care to Inmate, Maryland Accident Law Blog, August 7, 2012
Family of Maryland Man Who Died in Police Custody Dismisses Suit Against Police, May Still Sue Hospital, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 27, 2012
Medical Malpractice: A Surgeon’s Perspective, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 6, 2012

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