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Maryland Court Discusses Proximate Cause in Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Cases

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women, and early detection is critical to an increased chance of survival. While Maryland does not recognize a loss of chance of a favorable outcome as a viable claim in wrongful death cases, a practitioner can be held liable for proximately causing a patient harm by failing to provide a timely diagnosis. Therefore, if a court erroneously employs the loss of chance theory when analyzing whether a doctor should be deemed liable for malpractice, it can lead to an unjust result. The differences between loss of chance and proximate cause were recently discussed in a Maryland opinion in which an appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling in favor of the defendant radiologist in a wrongful death case. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to radiology errors, it is advisable to speak to a trusted Maryland medical malpractice attorney regarding your potential claims.

The Alleged Harm and Subsequent Trial

It is reported that the defendant radiologist performed a breast examination on the decedent in November 2011 that did not reveal any abnormalities. The decedent found a lump in her breast six months after that, that the defendant radiologist deemed benign. Fifteen months later, she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. She underwent treatment for two years but ultimately lost her battle with cancer in 2016.

The plaintiff, the decedent’s husband, filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that the defendant’s medical malpractice led to the decedent’s untimely death. A trial was held, and a jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict which the court granted, finding that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate the defendant caused the decedent’s death. The plaintiff appealed.

Proximate Cause in Wrongful Death Cases  

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erroneously applied the loss of chance theory rather than weighing whether the plaintiff established proximate cause. The appellate court explained that Maryland does not recognize the loss of chance doctrine, which imposes liability for a deceased chance of survival, in wrongful death cases. The court disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that the trial court applied the wrong standard but nonetheless reversed the trial court ruling.

Specifically, the appellate court explained that under the relevant law, the plaintiff was required to prove that it was more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence caused the decedent’s death. The court noted that the evidence demonstrated that if the decedent was diagnosed with cancer when she first treated with the defendant, she may have survived, and therefore, it was reasonable for the jury to conclude the defendant caused the decedent’s harm. Thus, the trial court ruling was reversed.

Speak to an Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorney

A prompt cancer diagnosis is a key factor in achieving a favorable outcome, and undue delays can lead to serious health issues and death. If you suffered harm or lost a loved one due to radiology errors, it is in your best interest to talk to a lawyer. The experienced Maryland malpractice attorneys of Arfaa Law Group can help you seek the best legal result available under the facts of your case. You can contact us at (410) 889-1850 or through the online form to set up a meeting.

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