Maryland Medical Malpractice Law Requires Plaintiff to Return to Arbitration Office After Dismissal for Deficient Expert Certificate, According to Court

A plaintiff alleging medical malpractice must submit a claim for arbitration to a state office before filing a lawsuit. A certificate and report from a qualified expert is also required. Any deficiency in these documents may be grounds for dismissal of the case, but the statute that requires dismissal does not specify whether a plaintiff may file a new lawsuit or must begin the arbitration process again. The Court of Special Appeals ruled in December 2013 in Puppolo v. Adventist Healthcare, Inc. that the plaintiff must go back to the arbitration office, adding yet another hurdle for medical malpractice claimants.

The Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act (HCMCA) requires medical malpractice claimants to submit their claims to the Health Claims Arbitration Dispute Resolution Office (HCADRO). They must also file a certificate and report from a qualified expert with credentials in the same or a similar field as the defendant, identifying the relevant standard of care and explaining how the defendant breached it. A court must dismiss a petition without prejudice if the plaintiff does not submit a certificate and report, or if the documents are found to be deficient. A plaintiff may re-file within sixty days of dismissal, but the statute does not say if they must repeat the entire process or not.

The Puppolo case involved injuries allegedly suffered by a woman at Washington Adventist Hospital in 2006 and 2007. She was admitted in August 2006 after suffering a stroke. A hospitalist examined her the day of her admission and prescribed an anticoagulant to manage the risk of further blood clots. Another doctor took over her care the following day. A week later, she suffered an intracranial hemorrhage that put her in a coma for six weeks. She suffered further complications due to the coma, including bedsores and related infections requiring multiple surgeries, renal failure, and lung collapse, before her death in December 2008.

Her daughter submitted a claim to HCADRO in August 2009 against WAH and the hospitalist who examined her mother the first day, followed by a certificate and report from a neurologist. She claimed breaches of the standard of care such as failure to diagnose her cranial bleeding and prescribing the wrong dosage of anticoagulants. The parties waived arbitration, and she filed a lawsuit in May 2010. The court dismissed the lawsuit against WAH, finding that the expert report failed to identify individual professionals in WAH’s employ who breached a standard of care.

The plaintiff filed a new lawsuit against WAH. The court consolidated the new suit with the original suit, which was still pending against the doctor. WAH moved to dismiss again, claiming in part that the plaintiff did not comply with the HCMCA by filing a new suit instead of going back to HCADRO. The court granted the motion.

On appeal, the plaintiff noted that the statute permitting a new suit, § 5-119 of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code, says she “may commence a new civil action or claim.” She argued to the Court of Special Appeals that the term “civil action” meant she could skip HCADRO and file a new lawsuit. The court disagreed.

The medical malpractice lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent people in Maryland who have been injured because of the negligence of a medical professional or hospital, helping them understand their rights and assert claims for damages. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Data Suggest That Noneconomic Damage Caps Do Not Reduce the Cost of Healthcare, While Maryland Courts Continue to Affirm Their Constitutionality, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 7, 2014
U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Affirms Necessity of Certification in Medical Malpractice Claims, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 3, 2013
Two Lawsuits Accuse Neurosurgeon of Malpractice Following Nerve and Other Injuries, Maryland Accident Law Blog, November 18, 2013

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