Maryland Court Allows Evidence of Superseding Causation in Medical Malpractice Case

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently reviewed a medical malpractice case involving issues of admissible evidence to prove superseding negligence. In Copsey v. Park (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 21, 2016), the surviving family of the decedent brought an action against the treating physician, alleging that the defendant negligently misread the decedent’s MRI six days before he suffered a massive, and ultimately fatal, stroke. The trial court allowed the physician-defendant to present evidence of negligence by other physicians who had treated the decedent after the defendant, and then the court instructed the jury on superseding causation at the end of the trial. On appeal, the survivors contended that the circuit court erred in admitting evidence of the negligence of subsequent treating physicians and instructing the jury on superseding causation.

Medical malpractice, or negligence, is the failure of a medical professional to meet the appropriate standard of care when treating a patient. In order to establish medical malpractice, a plaintiff must also prove that the physician’s negligent conduct caused the injury alleged in the lawsuit. In Maryland, courts have held that evidence of both negligence and causation attributable to a non-party is admissible in medical malpractice actions when the defendant asserts a complete denial of liability. In Copsey, the appeals court held that it doesn’t matter whether the alleged third-party negligence occurred before or after the defendant treated the patient, since without such evidence, the jury would be given a materially incomplete picture of the facts, and the defendant would be denied a fair trial. The court therefore found that the lower court did not err in allowing the defendant to present evidence of negligence on the part of other treating physicians.

The appeals court also held that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury on superseding causation. A superseding cause arises primarily when unusual and extraordinary independent intervening negligent acts occur that could not have been anticipated by the original tortfeasor. The court explained that in cases involving acts of negligence by subsequent treating physicians, the liability of the initial treating physician can be cut off if subsequent negligence by another physician constitutes a superseding cause. As a result, the court found that evidence of negligence presented by the defendant was relevant to whether he was a proximate cause of the decedent’s death. In addition, the appeals court found that the evidence presented met the minimum standard necessary to allow a jury to rationally conclude that the evidence supported the application of the superseding cause defense. The jury decision in favor of the defendant was therefore upheld on appeal.

If you or a family member are a victim of medical malpractice, you may be able to pursue a claim against the negligent parties to recover compensation for your loss. The medical malpractice attorneys at the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran provide experienced legal representation to clients in a variety of personal injury claims.  To discuss your claim with one of our skilled injury lawyers, contact the law firm of Foran & Foran, P.A. by phone at (301) 441-2022 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Upholds Majority of Million-Dollar Jury Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published December 9, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 24, 2015

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