In a case decided on May 24, 2017, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (“Court of Appeals”), Maryland’s highest court, held: ” … a defendant generally denying liability may present evidence of a non-party’s negligence and causation as an affirmative defense. It was not error to admit evidence of the negligence of the non-party subsequent treating physicians. Evidence of a non-party’s negligence was relevant and necessary in providing [the Maryland medical malpractice defendant] a fair trial; the potential prejudice did not outweigh the probative value of the evidence. We further hold that causation was an issue for the jury to determine. The evidence presented by [the defendant] tended to show that he was not negligent and that if he were negligent, the negligent omissions of the other three subsequent treating physicians were intervening and superseding causes of the harm to the patient. Therefore, we shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.”
In the case the Court of Appeals was deciding, a man died as a result of a fatal stroke that he suffered on June 10, 2010, for which the man’s estate and widow sued the defendant radiologist and three subsequent treating physicians, alleging that their medical negligence led to the man suffering the deadly stroke that could have been prevented if they had not each breached the standard of care applicable to their medical treatment of the decedent.
In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that between June 4 and June 10, 2010, each defendant physician involved in the man’s treatment negligently failed to timely diagnose his evolving stroke. The plaintiffs sought to hold all of the defendant physicians jointly and severally liable for the death of the man.
Prior to trial, the Maryland medical malpractice plaintiffs partially settled their claims and dismissed two of the doctors and their employers. A day after the Maryland medical malpractice trial had begun, the plaintiffs also dismissed the remaining subsequent treating physician.
Prior to trial, the plaintiffs had filed motions in limine seeking to preclude the admission of evidence regarding the non-parties’ statuses as former defendants and to preclude the last remaining medical malpractice defendant from raising the defense that the negligence of subsequent treating physicians was an intervening and superseding cause of the man’s death.
The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motions in limine after which the Maryland medical malpractice trial resulted in the jury finding in favor of the defendant radiologist: the Maryland medical malpractice jury found that the defendant radiologist did not breach the standard of care and that he acted as a reasonable physician under the circumstances. The plaintiffs filed a timely appeal, and the Maryland intermediate appellate court (Court of Special Appeals of Maryland) affirmed the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motions in limine.
The Court of Appeals stated in its opinion: “We shall hold that evidence of non-party negligence was relevant and necessary in providing [the defendant] a fair trial as it tended to show he was not negligent; thus, the alleged prejudice did not outweigh its probative value. Further, causation was an issue for the jury to determine and [the defendant] presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that he was not negligent; and if found to be negligent, his negligence was superseded by the independent and extraordinary negligence of others.” (A superseding cause arises primarily when unusual and extraordinary independent intervening negligent acts occur that could not have been anticipated by the original tortfeasor; negligence by a subsequent actor breaks the chain of causation when the action by the subsequent actor is extraordinary and not reasonably foreseeable.)
Source Copsey v. Park, No. 34, September Term, 2016
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