Maryland Court Examines Non-Party Negligence Defense in Medical Malpractice Case

To succeed in a Maryland medical malpractice action, the plaintiff must show that the treatment he received from his doctor fell below professional standards, and as a result, caused the plaintiff’s injury.  In some situations, the defendants may argue that the negligence of non-parties contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries, as in a June 26, 2019 case before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.  However, the defense of non-party negligence must be properly supported by evidence before it can be presented to a jury.

In the case, a cancer patient brought a medical malpractice action for the defendants’ failure to remove a cancerous lymph node before it became inoperable.  The plaintiff had received medical care from multiple doctors before the diagnosis and during the course of his treatment, but eventually pursued his claims against two radiologists and their employer.

The case went to trial.  During the closing argument, the defendants argued that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from the conduct of three non-party physicians, and not from any negligence on the part of the defendants themselves.  The jury ultimately found that the defendants were not negligent.  The plaintiff appealed, asserting that the trial court had erred by allowing the issue of non-party negligence to go to the jury without expert testimony of same.

In Maryland, a defendant healthcare provider may introduce evidence of a non-party’s medical negligence to prove that he was not negligent, and that the non-party’s negligence was the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  Evidence of non-party negligence may also be used to show that even if the defendant was negligent, the negligence of the other treating physicians was an intervening and superseding cause of the harm to the patient.

When negligence is alleged against a professional, either as a cause of action or a defense, expert testimony is generally necessary to establish the requisite standard of care owed.  This is because professional standards are often beyond the knowledge of the average person, and the expert’s testimony is necessary to explain the relevant standard for the jurors.

On appeal, the court noted that no expert witness testified, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, that any of the three non-party physicians had breached the standard of care.  As such, under the circumstances of the case, the jury had no basis to conclude that the non-parties were negligent.  The court therefore held that it was an error to include a question about the negligence of the non-party physicians on the verdict sheet.  The court went on to find that the instruction was prejudicial and had confused the jury, as indicated on the verdict sheet.  The court thus reversed the judgment and remanded the matter for a new trial.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our skilled Maryland attorneys can provide legal guidance if you or a loved one have been injured in an accident.  We litigate personal injury claims arising out of medical negligence, premises liability, car crashes and motorcycle collisions, and other accidents caused by negligent individuals or businesses.  To discuss your case with a personal injury lawyer, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation today.