Your Baltimore Medical Malpractice Case: The Basics
Your little son Sammy deserves nothing but the best when it comes to treating his upset tummy, so you waste no time in getting him to the best hospital in town. The doctor prescribes antibiotics just like you hoped, but you realize something is wrong when Sammy starts bleeding out of every hole in his tiny body. Whoops, turns out Sammy had food poisoning and the antibiotics wiped out all the friendly bacteria that could've helped him fight back. A couple sleepless nights later Sammy is on the mend, but now you want just compensation for the harrowing (and expensive) ordeal. Maryland malpractice law is full of technicalities and pitfalls, so why FindLaw has created this guide to your Baltimore medical malpractice case.
To win your Maryland medical negligence case, you must show that the healthcare professional who treated you violated the expected standard of care. A standard of care is the generally accepted procedures and practices used by medical professionals within the same geographic area when treating patients with a particular disease or disorder. The standard of care will vary depending on a number of factors, including the patient's age and medical history.
In addition to showing the doctor breached the standard of care, you must also show the healthcare provider's failure to abide by the applicable standard of care caused your injuries. A violation of the standard of care can happen at a number of different points during treatment, such as misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose a problem, failing to administer treatment properly, prescribing the wrong medication for an illness or failing to inform a patient about the risks of treatment.
Judges and jurors typically lack the knowledge to deduce the applicable standard of care, which makes an expert witness in the applicable medical field necessary to success. The expert can analyze your case and provide testimony as to the standard and detail how the doctor's actions were negligent.
A different theory of liability is used when a treatment is performed without the patient's consent or without warning the patient of all the risks involved with the treatment. Generally, no one can physically harm you without becoming liable for battery. However individuals may consent to a harmful contact without becoming liable, for example two boxers duking it out at the Baltimore Arena.
Similarly, a doctor cannot perform any treatment on a patient without first obtaining his or her informed consent (except for extreme cases where the patient is unable to consent to emergency treatment). The Maryland informed consent law requires:
- the doctor to disclose all the risks, benefits and alternatives of the treatment;
- the patient to comprehend the disclosure, and;
- the patient to execute a voluntary (non-coerced) waiver consenting to the treatment.
Choosing Who to Sue
You likely have a choice of suing either (or both) the medical professional who committed malpractice or the hospital where the malpractice occurred.
You can sue the hospital under two theories. First, the doctrine of respondeat superior provides that an employer is responsible for the tortious action of an employee acting within the scope of his or her employment, which makes the hospital liable for the negligence of its doctors and nurses.
Second, the hospital can be sued independently under the doctrine of corporate negligence. Corporate negligence applies, for example, when the hospital fails to maintain sanitary conditions, fails to screen employees for proper credentials, or improperly discharges a patient.
The Maryland statute of limitations puts a deadline on when you can file your lawsuit. In Maryland, you have three years from the day you discover, or reasonably should've discovered, the injury and its cause. However, your lawsuit cannot begin more than five years from the incident. There are some exceptions: for minors under the age of 11 the limitations period starts at age 11; for reproductive injuries or foreign objects, if the claimant was under age 16 the time limitation starts at age 16.
Courts universally reimburse successful plaintiffs with monetary awards called damages, which come in two flavors. Economic damages are easily computed because they reflect any unfair financial burdens placed upon the plaintiff resulting from the malpractice, such as medical bills or lost income from inability to work. There's no upper limit to the amount of economic damages you may recover.
Non-economic damages are designed to compensate patients for the pain and suffering they've been forced to endure. Non-economic damages in medical negligence lawsuits arising before December 31, 2008 are capped at $650,000, but the cap increases by $15,000 on January 1 of each subsequent year. For wrongful death claims, the noneconomic damages cap is an aggregate of 125% of economic damages if there are two or more claimants or beneficiaries.
Filing a Lawsuit
Where you file your case depends on how much recovery you are asking for. The Baltimore City District Court only handles cases worth $30,000 or less, but they never hold jury trials. You may also opt for small claims court for cases worth $5,000 or less. If your case is worth more than $30,000, or one of the parties requests a jury trial, your case will be heard at the Circuit Court for the City of Baltimore.
Along with a complaint, the plaintiff must file a certificate from a qualified expert asserting the defendant failed to observe the applicable standard of care and that this failure is the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. The defendant must similarly respond with a certificate from a qualified expert attesting the defendant complied with the standard of care.
The initial steps to a lawsuit are crucial, so you may wish to consider scheduling a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, which means that they take a percent of your recovery after your case has settled.
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