U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Affirms Necessity of Certification in Medical Malpractice Claims

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit recently made a decision that, while technically routine, has a substantial impact on the individual plaintiff.

The case, LITTLEPAIGE v. U.S., Ct. App. 4th Cir. (2013), was based on the alleged negligence in the care the plaintiff’s husband received at a VA hospital, which resulted in him suffering a hip fracture. The plaintiff’s husband had been placed on a special supervisory list/designation called “falls precaution,” due to his risk of injury. Yet, he was found on the floor twice, once resulting in a hip fracture, which required subsequent surgery, and caused him pain and suffering, among related claims.

The defendants in the case were granted a motion to dismiss the complaint, because the plaintiff failed to meet North Carolina’s certification requirement, mandatory in its medical malpractice claims.

The plaintiff appealed the district court’s decision on the grounds that her lawsuit was immune from the requirement because: (1) her claim stemmed from ordinary negligence, not medical malpractice; or, in the alternative. (2) her husband’s resultant injury was caused by medical malpractice, which was demonstrated by the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur. (Res ipsa loquitur, translated to “the thing speaks for itself,” is a principle of proof in negligence cases where the resultant injury so plainly demonstrates that someone acted negligently, that additional proof of causation is not legally required.)

Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals was not persuaded by either of the plaintiff’s arguments. After an examination of the difference between common negligence claims and medical malpractice, it found that her claim was squarely within the latter, therefore requiring certification.

Regarding her res ipsa loquitur argument, the court held that the doctrine is an exception to the general rule requiring proof, and that “The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur cannot be relied on to supply deficiencies in the proof.” The court further stated that, “while [plaintiff] need not eliminate every cause, other than the VA Hospital’s negligence, for [her husband’s] injuries, the universe of uncertainties in this case is so vast as to defeat the inference of negligence necessary to advance a claim under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.” In other words, there were many potential reasons for why the man became injured, rather than straightforward medical malpractice.

Maryland State law also requires certification in medical malpractice claims. The complete requirements of the Maryland State statute, can be found here.

In relevant part, it requires that the plaintiff file, and serve the defendant, within 90 days of filing the complaint,

“a certificate of a qualified expert with the Director attesting to departure from standards of care, and that the departure from standards of care is the proximate cause of the alleged injury…”

Furthermore, there are specific requirements regarding the healthcare professional providing the certification, such as that they must not earn more than 20% of their income in being involved with personal injury claims, etc. Additionally, there are certain narrow exceptions for when such certification is not required. Due to the highly technical nature of this requirement, it is safest to ensure that you hire an attorney or law firm that is well versed in Maryland State law, in order to ensure that your complaint is not dismissed, as it was in this case.

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of the negligent care of a physician, podiatrist, or other medical provider, you should seek the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The medical malpractice attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers are skilled at pursuing claims for people in Maryland injured due to the malpractice or negligence of medical professionals. Our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys will fight to secure the compensation you deserve. Contact us today online or by calling (800) 654-1949 in order to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

D.C. Court of Appeals Upholds Jury Decision for Consumer in Baseball Mask Product’s Liability Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published November 25, 2013
Two Lawsuits Accuse Neurosurgeon of Malpractice Following Nerve and Other Injuries, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published November 18, 2013

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