When people have to contend with the death of a loved one in Maryland, they are often focused on laying the departed loved one to rest and healing emotionally, rather than a potential lawsuit. Thus, an innocent act such a cremating a loved one’s remains may provide fodder for a defendant to argue that his or her defenses have been damaged in a subsequent case that arises out of the deceased person’s death. This was demonstrated in a recent medical malpractice case in which the defendant appealed a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, arguing that the cremation of the plaintiff’s decedent’s remains constituted spoliation. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to medical malpractice, it is critical to speak with an attorney regarding what you can do to preserve your rights.
It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent underwent a surgical reversal of a colostomy, which was performed at the defendant hospital. After the surgery, the decedent developed an infection and sepsis. He died five days after the surgery. It was ultimately revealed that he suffered a bowel leak, which the defendant surgeon failed to diagnose and treat in a timely manner. The plaintiff then filed a medical malpractice claim against the defendants. Prior to trial, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff engaged in spoliation of evidence by having the decedent’s remains cremated after his autopsy. Following the trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendants appealed.
Spoliation Under Maryland Law
Under Maryland law, the doctrine of spoliation is grounded in fairness and symmetry. In sum, it is based on the principle that a party should not be able to base its claims or defenses on physical evidence that it has since destroyed, to the detriment of the opposing party. In assessing whether spoliation has occurred, a court will determine whether there has been an act of destruction, whether the party intended to destroy evidence and whether the destruction occurred before the suit was filed, when the suit was imminent, or after the suit was instituted. Continue Reading