Faulty medical care can result in further injuries, expenses, and stress for the patient. Some plaintiffs take legal action by filing a medical malpractice claim, as in a May 31, 2017 case decided by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. The plaintiff in the case brought a medical negligence action against a hospital, based solely on vicarious liability, alleging that her physician negligently performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy and caused an injury to her uterus. The plaintiff won at trial, and the jury awarded her approximately $425,000 in damages. The hospital filed an appeal.
The primary issue for the appeals court to decide was whether the plaintiff could lawfully bring her negligence claim against the hospital based on the doctrine of respondeat superior after she had voluntarily dismissed her claim against the doctor with prejudice. Respondeat superior is a legal doctrine that holds an employer vicariously liable for a tort committed by its employee while acting within the scope of his employment. In Maryland, the plaintiff may sue an employer based on the wrongful conduct of its employee without suing the employee as well. To establish the liability of the employer in such cases, the plaintiff need only prove that the employee committed the tort and did so while acting within the scope of his employment.
There are, however, two situations under Maryland law in which the settlement of a claim against the employee will preclude vicarious liability on the part of the employer: (1) the exoneration of the employee; and (2) the plaintiff’s release of her claim against the employee. On appeal, the hospital argued that the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim against her doctor with prejudice constituted a release of liability against both the doctor and the hospital. The issue is one that has not been decided uniformly across the country.
In Maryland, the dismissal with prejudice of any defendant, including an agent, bars the plaintiff from bringing a second action against that defendant on the same claim. The appeals court concluded that the legal effect on the employer of such a dismissal against the employee should be guided by whether the dismissal is a procedural device used to drop the employee as a defendant, or whether it has a substantive basis, such as an adverse decision on the merits, the release of the plaintiff’s claim, or an exchange of consideration.
In the case before the appeals court, the dismissal with prejudice simply removed the doctor as a defendant in the case, without more. There was no written release of the plaintiff’s claims against the doctor, nor a settlement agreement, nor an exchange of dismissal for consideration. Accordingly, the court held that the dismissal did not have the effect of barring the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim against the hospital, and it affirmed the jury verdict for the plaintiff.
The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can help victims of medical malpractice pursue legal action for their damages. Our dedicated lawyers can also represent plaintiffs who are hurt in other accidents caused by negligence, such as car crashes and slip and falls. To discuss your case with one of our skilled attorneys, call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to make an appointment.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court Rules Expert Testimony Required to Establish Plaintiff’s Claim for Lack of Informed Consent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 18, 2016
Maryland Court Reviews Evidence of Causation in Medical Malpractice Appeal, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 11, 2016