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Maryland Court Discusses Defense of Non-Party Medical Negligence in Medical Malpractice Cases

People diagnosed with cancer turn to doctors to alleviate their fears, but not all doctors who treat cancer provide care commensurate with their training, and their patients often suffer significant harm as a result. If a patient harmed by medical malpractice pursues claims against a negligent doctor, the doctor may attempt to avoid liability by arguing that the negligence of a third party caused the patient’s harm. Recently, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland analyzed when it is appropriate to instruct the jury on the defense of non-party negligence in a medical malpractice case that arose out of the defendants’ insufficient treatment of a plaintiff with cancer. If you have sustained injuries due to inadequate treatment, it is prudent to meet with a proficient Maryland medical malpractice attorney regarding what claims you may be able to pursue.

Facts of the Case

In 2011, the plaintiff was diagnosed with renal cell cancer and an enlarged lymph node near the affected kidney. A surgeon removed the kidney but not the lymph node, due to its proximity to the inferior vena cava. The plaintiff then began treatment with an oncologist, who presumed the lymph node was cancerous and noted that it shrunk in reaction to chemotherapy. The oncologist ordered periodic scans of the lymph node over the next several years, which were interpreted by multiple radiologists, each of whom found no lymphadenopathy. Then, in 2015, a scan indicated the lymph node had become enlarged. A biopsy subsequently indicated the lymph node was cancerous, and additional scans showed that it could not be safely removed because of its closeness to the vena cava.

Procedural Background

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon and each radiologist that assessed the lymph node. He subsequently dismissed the claim against the surgeon, and the case proceeded to trial. During the trial, the defendants presented expert testimony that the lymph node could have been removed up until 2015 and that if it had been removed, the plaintiff’s cancer could have been cured. No testimony was provided, however, regarding whether the standard of care required the surgeon to remove the lymph node in 2011. At the end of the trial, instructions were submitted to the jury, which included a question regarding whether the negligent acts of non-party physicians harmed the plaintiff. The jury found in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Defense of Non-Party Medical Negligence

Under Maryland law, non-party medical negligence is a viable defense. In other words, a defendant may introduce evidence of a non-party’s medical negligence to prove that the defendant was not negligent, or that the non-party’s negligence superseded the defendant’s negligence. The court stated, however, that a defendant asserting that a non-party’s medical negligence caused a plaintiff’s harm must introduce evidence sufficient to establish the non-party’s breach of the applicable standard of care to a reasonable degree of medical probability.

In the subject case, the defendants argued that they met this standard, by introducing evidence that the lymph node could have been safely resected before 2015. The court rejected this argument, finding that the evidence produced by the defendants was insufficient to show that the surgeon’s care fell below the standard of care of a reasonably competent practitioner. Thus, the court reversed the verdict and remanded for a new trial.

Meet with a Seasoned Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you or a loved one sustained damages due to insufficient care, you should meet with a seasoned Maryland medical malpractice attorney regarding your potential claims. The medical malpractice attorneys of Arfaa Law Group are skilled at aiding people injured by medical malpractice, and they will work tirelessly to help you strive for a successful result. You can contact us through our form online or at (410) 889-1850 to schedule a confidential and free meeting regarding your case.