Maryland Court Discusses the Need for Expert Testimony in Medically Complex Cases

Generally, a plaintiff pursuing medical malpractice claims will require expert testimony. Not all harm that occurs in a medical environment constitutes malpractice, however. Regardless, in cases involving medically complex injuries, expert testimony is typically necessary nonetheless, as demonstrated in a recent Maryland opinion. If you were injured due to the negligence of a healthcare provider, it is in your best interest to talk to a Maryland medical malpractice lawyer about whether you may be able to recover damages.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the plaintiff hit her head on a wall-mounted cabinet while standing up from a chair in an observation room at the defendant’s hospital, where her son was receiving treatment. Three years later, she filed a lawsuit against the defendant, claiming severe physical and mental injuries due to their negligence in the construction and maintenance of the cabinet and failure to warn her of the danger.

Allegedly, during discovery, it was revealed that the plaintiff had been injured in a car accident and work-related incidents prior to the incident at the defendant’s hospital. The defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they plaintiff failed to provide evidence of breach of duty, actual injury, and causal relation to the incident. They claimed that expert testimony was required for causation and damages, which the plaintiff had not provided. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Need for Expert Testimony in Medically Complex Cases

Under Maryland law, to establish a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) that the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from harm, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4) that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injury. The element of causation can be further divided into two sub-elements: cause in fact and legally cognizable cause.

Cause in fact refers to whether the defendant’s conduct directly resulted in the injury, while legally cognizable cause considers whether the injury was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence. The burden of proving each element rests with the plaintiff.

The requirement for expert testimony to establish causation varies on a case-by-case basis. In general, expert testimony is necessary when the issue of causation involves complex medical questions beyond the understanding of an ordinary person. However, in cases where the causal connection between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injury is apparent, expert testimony may not be required. Factors such as the temporal relationship between the initial injury and the trauma, the manifestation of the trauma in the same body part as the initial injury, and medical testimony or an obvious cause-and-effect relationship within the common knowledge of laypeople can influence the need for expert testimony.

When a party has experienced similar injuries before or after the incident in question, a complicated medical question arises, typically necessitating expert medical testimony. Failure to provide such testimony can weaken the plaintiff’s case, as demonstrated in previous court decisions where expert testimony was deemed necessary to establish causation. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff’s failure to offer expert testimony was fatal to her claim. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Skilled Maryland Attorney

The plaintiff bears the burden of proof in a medical malpractice case, and typically, they must offer expert testimony to meet this burden. If you suffered harm in a medical setting, it is wise to speak to an attorney about you possible claims. The skilled Maryland attorneys of Arfaa Law Group can advise you of your rights and aid you in seeking any damages you may be owed. You can contact us via our online form or by calling us at (410) 889-1850 to set up a conference.

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