In a Maryland medical malpractice case, the jury instructions are generally important for members of the jury to understand and apply the law to the evidence presented at trial. Sometimes, the instructions provided to the jury may be grounds for appeal. In January 25, 2019 opinion, the Court of Appeals of Maryland considered whether it was improper for the trial court to give instructions on both the standard of care for general negligence and the higher standard of care for a physician in a medical malpractice case.
The plaintiff in the case had sought medical treatment from the defendant after he experienced numbness in his fingers and intermittent neck and shoulder pain. The defendant recommended surgery to remove damaged discs from the plaintiff’s spine and fused vertebrae in his neck. After the defendant had performed the surgery, the plaintiff developed an infection at the location of the operation. The plaintiff was hospitalized as a result of the infection, and remained hampered by a severely limited range of motion.
The plaintiff sued the defendant for medical negligence and failure to obtain informed consent. At trial, the court gave the jury a general instruction on negligence using the reasonable person standard, i.e., that negligence is failing to use the caution, attention, or skill of a reasonable person would use under similar circumstances. The court also gave an instruction that specifically addressed the negligence of a health care provider, which read: a health care provider is negligent if he does not use that degree of care and skill which a reasonably competent health care provider engaged in a similar practice and acting in similar circumstances would use. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the first count for medical negligence.
The defendant appealed the verdict on several grounds. One of the arguments was that the trial court should not have included both the general and specific jury instructions. The Court of Appeals concluded that it was neither wrong as a matter of law, nor misleading to advise jurors of the general principles governing negligence cases as a preface to the more specific standard for a physician or health care provider. The court conceded, however, that without clarification, using a general negligence instruction in a medical malpractice action did have the potential to confuse the jury.
In this particular case, the court concluded that issue of the standard of care was consistently presented throughout the trial as that of a medical professional, and that even if the jury had applied the reasonable person standard, it would only have benefited the defendant, since it was a much lower standard of care. After reviewing the defendant’s other grounds, the court affirmed the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
At Foran & Foran, P.A., our attorneys understand that victims of medical malpractice and negligence may be concerned about the future costs arising from their injuries. Our Maryland personal injury lawyers work tirelessly to help plaintiffs and their families seek compensation from those responsible for their situation. Call our office at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to discuss a car accident injury or another personal injury caused by negligence.