Maryland Plaintiff’s Delay in Seeking Medical Care Is No Defense for Doctor Who Subsequently Treated Him

Knowing when to seek medical treatment can be a complicated and very personal decision.  Whether that decision has any effect on a health provider’s liability for negligence was the issue in an April 26, 2018 Maryland medical malpractice case before the Court of Special Appeals.  

The plaintiff in the case filed a medical malpractice claim against his physician, alleging that the physician negligently cut the plaintiff’s bile duct while surgically removing his inflamed gallbladder.  Before visiting the physician, the plaintiff had gone to the emergency room for stomach pains.  The plaintiff left, however, before the condition could be diagnosed, and he waited an additional 11 days before seeking treatment again from the defendant, who performed the surgery.

The defendant denied any negligence and further alleged, as a defense, that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in failing to timely seek treatment for severe abdominal pains.  The jury ultimately found that the defendant was not negligent.  The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the defense was improper because any alleged contributory negligence occurred before he sought treatment from the defendant.

To succeed on a claim of medical malpractice in Maryland, the plaintiff must show that the care given or withheld by the doctor did not meet the standards of practice among members of the same health care profession with similar training and experience located in the same or similar communities.  The general rules of negligence usually apply in determining liability in medical malpractice cases.  As a result, a defendant may raise any of the affirmative defenses generally available in a negligence action, including contributory negligence.  However, contributory negligence may not be invoked unless there is some evidence that the injured party acted or failed to act with knowledge and appreciation of the danger of his conduct.

On appeal, the court noted that in prior Maryland medical malpractice cases, the issue of contributory negligence was submitted to a jury only when there was evidence that the plaintiff had received treatment from a health care provider, that he had then been given instructions by that provider, and that he had not followed, or unreasonably delayed in following, those instructions.  In the current case, however, the question was whether a physician could raise the defense if the alleged contributory negligence occurred before she had treated or even seen the patient.  The question had never been expressly addressed by the Maryland courts before.

The appeals court concluded that any negligence on the part of a patient prior to the time he was treated by a physician is irrelevant in determining whether the physician, thereafter, is liable for negligence in rending treatment to that patient.  Furthermore, the court held that a patient’s delay in seeking medical treatment could not, as a matter of law, be a cause of the injury he sustained as a result of the alleged medical malpractice.  The court reversed the jury verdict and remanded for a new trial.

If you believe you received negligent medical care, the Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. may be able to assist you.  We have successfully represented plaintiffs in medical malpractice actions as well as other personal injury cases.  For a free consultation with one of our skilled lawyers, call our office at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to make an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Rules Expert Testimony Required to Establish Plaintiff’s Claim for Lack of Informed Consent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 18, 2016

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