In its published opinion dated June 26, 2019, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Maryland Appellate Court”) stated, “This [Maryland medical malpractice] case specifically concerns whether a circuit court erred in submitting the issue of non-party negligence to the jury when the defendants did not produce an expert to opine, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, that a non-party healthcare provider had breached the standard of care. We hold that the court erred in submitting the issue of non-party negligence to the jury, because the defendants did not generate a triable question of fact on that subject.”
The Maryland Appellate Court stated that the specific issue on appeal was “Did the trial judge err in including in the verdict form a question asking whether the negligent acts of non-party physicians harmed the Plaintiff where there had been no expert testimony that those non-party physicians deviated from any standard of care or that any such deviations caused harm?”
When a person alleges negligence by a professional, such as a physician, expert testimony is generally necessary to establish the requisite standard of care owed. This is because professional standards are often beyond the ken of the average lay person, such that the expert’s testimony is necessary to elucidate the relevant standard for the trier of fact. The only exceptions are those extraordinarily rare medical malpractice cases in which the defendant’s act or omission is such that ordinary lay people would be able to determine that the act or omission was a breach of the standard of care, such as amputating the wrong leg.
The Maryland Appellate Court held that a defendant may use evidence of nonparty medical negligence not in connection with an affirmative defense of superseding causation, but as a means of disputing the plaintiff’s proof of negligence and causation. The Maryland Appellate Court continued, “We generally require expert testimony about a breach of a professional standard of care because the subject matter is beyond the understanding of ordinary lay jurors. That subject matter does not become any more comprehensible to lay jurors merely because it is presented as a defense to a claim of malpractice, and not as the basis for a claim of malpractice. Indeed, if defendants want to contest a plaintiff’s allegations of medical negligence by showing that they themselves adhered to the standard of care, they would typically need to call an expert, who would have to express his or her opinions to a reasonable degree of probability. It follows that if defendants want to contest a plaintiff’s allegations of medical negligence with evidence of a non-party’s medical negligence, they must call an expert, who must express his or her opinions to a reasonable degree of probability, unless the non-party’s negligence is so obvious that ordinary lay people can determine that it was a breach of the standard of care.”
Source Reiss v. American Radiology Services, LLC, No. 1570 September Term, 2017.
If you or a loved one may have been injured (or worse) as a result of medical negligence in Maryland or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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