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The Importance of Procedural Rules in Maryland Arbitration Cases

envelopeIn Castles of Love Assisted Living Homes, LLC v. Blanks, the court addressed the following question. Did the defendant fulfill Maryland Rule 15-403 by sending its notice of rejection of a health care arbitration award through regular mail as opposed to certified mail?

The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff resided at a nursing home from the year 2008 until she died. The plaintiff complained that, during her time at the home, she sustained a number of injuries and became mute due to an infection caused by a feeding tube. The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the nursing home and sought compensatory damages for more than $100,000.

As required by Maryland law, the case went through arbitration. The arbitration panel reviewed the facts of the case and ruled in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her $25,000 in non-economic damages and over $3,000 in arbitration expenses. The Health Care Arbitration Office (HCAO) sent a document to both parties detailing its ruling. Upon receiving the letter, the defendant responded to the HCAO, rejecting its decision. The defendant sent the letter to HCOA by certified mail and sent a copy of the letter to the plaintiff by regular mail.

Furthermore, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment with the circuit court. The court denied the motion, since the matter was never filed with that court to begin with. The HCAO informed the defendant that the plaintiff had not been served properly with the rejection letter, since it was sent through U.S. mail as opposed to certified mail. Also, the HCAO highlighted that the circuit court would not vacate the arbitration award, since the defendant’s motion had been rejected and not renewed. Thus, the HCAO’s letter determined that the defendant was obligated to adhere to its decision.

The defendant rejected the HCAO’s second letter and sent a copy of this letter to both the HCAO and the plaintiff by certified mail.

The HCAO did not acknowledge the defendant’s letter and proceeded to file a motion with the court, asking it to confirm the award. The court granted this motion, and the defendant appealed.

Maryland law requires a medical malpractice claim to go through arbitration before a lawsuit can be filed. If a plaintiff wants to rebuff an award and move forward with a lawsuit, a notice of this has to be sent to the HCAO. If this does not take place, the arbitration verdict becomes definitive and obligatory on both parties.

The appeals court stated that two separate requirements must be fulfilled prior to the case going to trial. The first is that a notice of rejection has to be submitted to the Director and arbitration panel and communicated to any other party or their attorney within a 30-day time frame, once the rejecting party receives the information about the award. And the second is that the rejecting party is required to file an action in court to invalidate the award and must file a copy of the document with the Director.

Here, the defendant’s rejection was timely, but it was improperly served to the plaintiff, since it did not comply with the certified mail requirement of Rule 15-403(d). Thus, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

If you’ve been harmed by medical negligence, we can help. At Arfaa Law Group, our Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys have the skill and experience needed to handle your case. To talk about your case in more detail, feel free to call 410-889-1850 or contact us online.

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