Joint Torfeasor Releases in Maryland

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 doctor filed a motion to reduce the verdict pursuant to the Maryland Contribution Among Joint Tort-Feasors Act. 9, claiming contribution not only from the settling defendants but other health care providers not involved in the medical malpractice lawsuit (a doctor and two nurses). In other words, the doctor wanted to split up the obligation for the $1.8 million as many different ways as he could. The trial court disagreed and reduced the judgment by two-thirds, leaving $598,333.333.

The Maryland Court of Appeals found that if a plaintiff releases a joint tortfeasor, the verdict against any other joint tortfeasor is to be reduced by the amount paid or by any proportion that the settlement release provides if it is greater than the amount paid. In this case, the release provided for a pro rata reduction, which is exactly what the court gave. In principal/agent cases, both should be considered one joint tortfeasor for the purpose of determining reduction.

The case gets into a bunch of other issues, including the all-important question of how you spell tortfeasor/tort-feasor. Since the Maryland legislature uses a hyphen, the court decides it will use a hyphen. I am asserting my independence as, you know, a journalist and spelling it without a hyphen.

If you are a lawyer dealing with a joint tortfeasor release in a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit or any other personal injury claim, this is one of the cases you want to read. You can find it here.