Articles Posted in Maryland Malpractice Cases

Last week, the Maryland Cout of Special Appeals issued its opinion in Hinebaugh v. Garrett County Memorial Hospital.  This case is a cautionary tale for medical malpractice lawyers and other Maryland lawyers who think they can handle malpractice cases.

Maryland, like many states, creates a lot of hoops that plaintiffs need to jump through in order to bring medical malpractice case.  A lot of these requirements are ticky tacky details. But the big thing is a report and certificate of merit from a doctor who agrees there is a breach of the standard of care – the doctor did something a prudent doctor wouldn’t – and that the breach caused an injury.

Hinebaugh v. Garrett County Memorial Hospital

This case is barely worth reporting on, but I thought I would pass it along.

In Smith v. Palin, a Maryland federal court was asked whether the Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office abused its discretion in extending the time for filing the expert certificate required by Maryland law several times.  Specifically,  the defendant’s argued that the plaintiff’s excuse that they had requested, but not yet received all studies from treating physicians in Pennsylvania – including photographs of condition at issue – did not constitute good cause.

Should it take that long to get the records in a case?  No, it really shouldn’t.  Should the HCADRO hold plaintiffs’ feet to the fire and kick cases out because plaintiff’s lawyer has not done what they are supposed to do?  I think not.  Moreover, it is clearly not an abuse of discretion for the HCADRO director to determine that the plaintiffs do have good cause.  Not for nothing, the plaintiff was a 16-year-old girl when the defendant allegedly recommended that she undergo a bilateral breast augmentation as a treatment for a tubular breast deformity.  I don’t know about you, but I would like to see the court extend the benefit of the doubt.  Which is exactly what Judge James K. Bredar does.

A three year legal battle has ended in a $17.9 million settlement, though the money is nothing in comparison to the woman’s loss.
The facts here are absolutely tragic. In 2008, a now 35 year old mother of two presented to a New York emergency room. She was diagnosed with a kidney stone, and sent home with some painkillers. The next day, still in agonizing pain, she called 911 not once, but twice. The local medics did not take her back to the hospital.

On the following day, now two days out, her fiancé rushed her to the hospital. By this time, she had developed a sepsis infection that had spread through her body. She lapsed into a coma, and gangrene spread to her extremities. She awoke to having had both hands and feet amputated, and the loss of her sight in one eye.

The hospital, who still maintains that they provided excellent care, chose to settle “because a sympathetic jury would have been swayed by her profound injuries.” Wow, really? You think? A thirty-five year old mother will spend the rest of her life needing the aid of high-tech prosthetics to perform the simplest of tasks, like brushing her hair, not to mention the loss of sight in one eye, but the hospital is concerned that a jury might be swayed. Unreal. I applaud their concern.

The Pop Tort rages about the certificate of merit requirement that many states have in medical malpractice cases, citing a particularly onerous Connecticut merit requirement. The Pop Tort cites a news article of an awful injustice done to a woman who had her medical malpractice lawsuit dismissed.

After a long ride to the end of the article, we find out what the grave injustice was. The plaintiff sued her doctors for alleged breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress — not malpractice – and the court decided she need a certificate of merit.

Personally, I’m fine with this. I think certificates of merit are actually a good thing. There is a knee jerk reaction: the certificate of merit makes it hard for plaintiffs and their lawyers to bring lawsuits. But not all things that are made harder are bad thing. I know that there are some meritorious cases that don’t make the cut because discovery is needed to get the information for the cerftificate of merit in the first place. But good lawyering can find a way around that problem, at least in Maryland.

  • The family of a man who died at Massachusetts General Hospital has settled its case against the hospital for $850,000. The man died after nurses failed to respond to alarms on his cardiac monitor. This death has shed national attention on the dangers of “alarm fatigue’’ among hospital staff.
  • A few New York courts are taking a new approach to handling the 4,000 medical malpractice suits filed each year. The approach…settling cases early. The pilot program will be using a $3 million grant to train more judges in medical issues, and has been shown to cut court backlogs and save money, while also proving to be a cost savings to hospitals and directly impacting the indemnity insurance of doctors. One of the new rules approved for the medical malpractice cases, in order to expedite things – scheduling Settlement Conferences 45 days after court papers are filed.
  • The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued an opinion on its relatively new certificate of merit rule in Crawford v. Kavanaugh. Maryland has a similar rule and this opinion is a cautionary tale for both Tennessee and Maryland malpractice lawyers. The lesson: don’t take a malpractice case unless you know how to handle it.

A Massachusetts appellate court ordered a new trial after the trial court had granted a doctor’s motion for directed verdict in a medical malpractice case.

Classic malpractice case. Patient goes to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist who diagnoses a voice disturbance and reflux esophagitis. Patient gets speech therapy. Critical time passes. He gets a second opinion and finds out he has cancer, metastatic non-small-cell lung carcinoma. Tragically, he dies.

The trial judge found that Plaintiff’s medical expert witness, a radiation oncologist, had failed to provide testimony specifically staging Plaintiff’s loss of chance claim submitted to the jury. As I have written in the past, Massachusetts has more liberal lost chance loss than Maryland does.

The Maryland high court provides a good look at just how complicated the implications of joint tortfeasor releases can be in Hashmi v. Bennett, a medical malpractice case filed against Good Samaritan Hospital of Maryland and a number of other medical providers.

Plaintiffs’ filed a medical malpractice survival action/wrongful death lawsuit claiming defendants failed to diagnose and treat plaintiffs’ father, a 27 year-old man, who showed signs and symptoms of progressive septic methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and was treated instead with Ambien to help him sleep.

Good Samaritan Hospital settled the case for $550,000 and the claim against the emergency room practice and the ER doctor settled for $400,000. The case against the doctor at the hospital who treated the patient was taken to verdict and a Baltimore City jury awarded Plaintiffs $2,295,000, which was reduced by the Maryland medical malpractice cap to $1,795,000.

The Washington Supreme Court unanimously (9-0) threw out a 2006 law that requires an injured patient to get a certificate of merit from an expert before suing for medical malpractice, finding that RCW 7.70.150, usurped the judicial branch’s power to determine the procedures by which courts adjudicate medical malpractice lawsuits. In other words, requiring a certificate of merit in medical malpractice cases in Washington violates the separation of state powers in Washington’s constitution.

I’m not necessarily against the idea of certificates of merit in medical malpractice cases – which have been required for years as a condition precedent to filing medical malpractice lawsuits in Maryland – even though I’m a little queasy about the idea of treating doctors in civil lawsuit differently that the rest of us. (The justification? We have been doing it that way for a while. Which is really no justification at all when you think about it. But let’s move on.) But if you read the opinion, it is hard to argued that a certificate of merit is anything other than a procedural rule.

Washington state constitution, similar to Ohio’s – is clear that procedural rules are for the judiciary.