Maryland Court Reverses Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case Based on Improper Jury Instruction

If you have been injured by negligent medical treatment, you may be able to bring a Maryland medical malpractice claim against the health care provider who was responsible.  In a recent medical malpractice case, the plaintiff won on his claim against his neurosurgeon and was awarded compensation for his losses by the jury.  The defendant appealed the matter to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, which issued a ruling on September 1, 2017.

The plaintiff in the case had suffered years of neck and shoulder pain and numbness in his right hand.  The defendant performed surgery to remove damaged discs from the plaintiff’s cervical spine.  The plaintiff’s recovery was difficult, and some five months after the operation, the plaintiff tested positive for a Staph infection.  At trial, the plaintiff’s expert witness testified that the defendant and his staff were too slow in diagnosing and treating the infection.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, finding that the defendant was negligent.

The primary issue on appeal was whether the jury instructions were proper.  The jury in the case was given instructions in terms of the standard of care that should be employed by a reasonably competent health care provider engaged in a similar practice and acting in similar circumstances.  However, in addition, an instruction was provided on the general negligence concept of foreseeable circumstances, describing how a reasonable person changes their conduct according to the circumstances and danger that is known or would be appreciated by a reasonable person.  On appeal, the defendant argued that the jury instruction sounding in general negligence principles was prejudicial.

In Maryland, the general principles that ordinarily govern in negligence cases also apply in medical malpractice claims, but the standard of care differs.  Whereas the conduct of an average person is evaluated in terms of a reasonably prudent person acting under the same or similar circumstances, the standard applied in medical malpractice cases takes into account the specialized knowledge or skill of the defendant.  Accordingly, a physician is expected to exercise the degree of care or skill expected of a reasonably competent physician in the same or similar circumstances.

The appeals court noted the difference between the standard of care in medical malpractice claims and in general negligence claims.  The court explained that jury instructions on general negligence, framed in terms of the conduct of a reasonable person, are inapplicable to the allegedly negligent conduct of a physician.  The court further found that such an instruction invited the jurors to substitute their judgment for that of a neurosurgeon, and it implied that the defendant’s failure to adapt his course of treatment was at issue when in fact there was no such evidence.  Accordingly, ruling that the general negligence instruction in a medical malpractice case was both erroneous and prejudicial, the court reversed the verdict and remanded for a new trial.

The personal injury firm of Foran & Foran, P.A. handles complex negligence cases, including Maryland medical malpractice and wrongful death claims.  Our experienced attorneys can assist you in pursuing legal action to seek the compensation you deserve after an injury.  Also, if you have been hurt in a car crash, a slip and fall, or another accident, contact Foran & Foran by phone at (301) 441-2022 or online and schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Considers Whether Injury Claim Falls Under Maryland Health Care Act, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 2, 2017

Maryland Plaintiff Pursues Medical Malpractice Claim Arising from Hip-Replacement Surgery, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 10, 2017