When is Evidence of a Superseding Cause Allowed in Maryland Malpractice Cases?

In Copsey v. Park, the defendant physician negligently misread the patient’s MRI/MRA less than a week prior to his suffering a very serious, and eventually fatal, stroke. The surviving family members of the deceased filed a wrongful death claim against four treating physicians. Two of the defendants settled with the plaintiff out of court. The third physician was dismissed from the lawsuit, leaving only one treating physician as the sole defendant.

The trial court permitted the physician to present evidence showing that the other physicians who had treated the deceased were negligent. The court then gave the jury instructions on superseding causation at the conclusion of the trial.

Ultimately, however, the jury did not reach the question of superseding cause because they found the defendant physician’s reading of the MRI/MRA was not negligent. The jury thus found that the physician was not an actual or proximate cause of the patient’s death.

On appeal, the plaintiffs stated that the lower court erred in allowing evidence of the negligence of subsequent treating physicians and giving the jury instructions on superseding causation.

A superseding cause arises when uncommon and astonishing independent intervening negligent conduct takes place that could not have been expected by the original negligent actor. In instances involving negligent conduct by a subsequent treating physician, the liability of the original doctor will be limited if the subsequent negligence by a different physician is deemed to be a superseding cause.

The Appellate Court held that the evidence regarding the physicians who had settled or were no longer part of the lawsuit was still relevant as to the issue of causation. Put another way, evidence of negligence by the other physicians was relevant in determining whether the defendant was a direct cause of the patient’s death. Furthermore, the negligent conduct carried out by the subsequent treating physicians met the minimum threshold needed to establish a case that would let a jury sensibly determine that the evidence supported the use of the superseding cause argument.

Under Maryland law, it is well established that determinations of cause are a question for a jury. As a result, the jury must be given all the information that would paint a complete picture of the situation. Here, the evidence of third-party negligence was extremely important because the defendant maintained he was not liable at all. Thus, the jury decision returned in the lower court was upheld.

If you or someone close to you has been harmed or died due to medical negligence, we can help. At Arfaa Law Group, our Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys have the experience and determination to handle your case. We proudly represent clients throughout Maryland. We can work tirelessly to gather the facts surrounding your situation and develop a legal strategy accordingly. We take pride in keeping an open line of communication with our clients, so you are welcome to ask any questions or voice any concerns you may have along the way. To learn more about your legal rights and options, call 410-889-1850 or contact us online.

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