Maryland Court of Special Appeals Upholds Majority of Million-Dollar Jury Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a medical malpractice case, Upper Chesapeake Health Center, Inc. v. Gargiulo, et al., in which the survivors and estate of the victim were awarded a total of $908,238.05 in damages by the jury. On appeal, the defendants argued a number of issues, and the plaintiffs presented additional issues in a cross-appeal. Ultimately, the court vacated the judgment with respect to the damages awarded for pain and suffering to the estate, but otherwise it affirmed the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

In Upper Chesapeake Health Center, Inc. v. Gargiulo, et al., the patient was admitted to the hospital with infected ulcers, a resulting complication of her multiple sclerosis. The patient’s condition deteriorated during hospitalization, until the doctors informed her family that she was a candidate for hospice care. Later that day, the doctors initiated hospice care, discontinuing the patient’s antibiotics and administering increased doses of painkillers. A few days later, the patient died. The survivors brought a wrongful death suit against the patient’s doctors and the hospital based on medical malpractice, alleging that the patient’s death was caused by the rapid increase of pain medications.

One of the more interesting issues raised on appeal was whether the plaintiffs could present testimony regarding informed consent, specifically that the plaintiffs did not consent to hospice care. In Maryland, claims for medical malpractice and breach of informed consent are separate theories of liability that must be pled separately, although both sound in negligence. An action for medical malpractice alleges that a medical professional failed to use the degree of care and skill that is expected of a reasonably competent practitioner acting in the same or similar circumstances. In contrast, an informed consent claim alleges that the health care provider failed to explain the procedure to the patient and warn of any material risks or dangers inherent in or collateral to the therapy, in order to enable the patient to make an intelligent and informed choice about whether or not to undergo such treatment. Generally, evidence of informed consent is not relevant in a medical malpractice action, such as in the present case. However, the Court of Special Appeals recognized that the circumstances of the physician’s conduct are relevant in establishing the standard of care in a medical malpractice case and evaluating whether the standard has been met. The court found that the testimony regarding informed consent was offered to assist the jury in making its finding as to the applicable standard of care and establish a prima facie case of medical negligence. Therefore, the court ruled that the testimony was not admitted in error.

The only point of reversal by the court was with respect to the award of $50,000 in connection with the estate’s claim for the patient’s pain and suffering. In order to prove damages for pain and suffering, the plaintiffs must show that the patient’s conscious pain was proximately caused by the defendants’ negligent conduct, not simply that she experienced pain. On appeal, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to present any evidence at trial directly linking the patient’s pain with the defendants’ negligent conduct. As a result, the court vacated only this aspect of the nearly one-million-dollar judgment.

If you or a family member have been the victim of medical malpractice in Maryland, pursuing a lawsuit against those responsible may be the right decision for you. To discuss your claim with an experienced personal injury attorney, contact the medical malpractice law firm of Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

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

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Bring Wrongful Death Suit Based on Same Conduct as Prior Personal Injury Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 21, 2015

Contact Information