A trend has been observed in Maryland medical malpractice claims where a hospital is involved. The case will exclude individual physicians as named defendants in the claim. Some explain this practice is done in order to more efficiently move the case forward; however, it also creates concerns for regulators relating to public safety. Physicians who may have acted negligently while employed at John Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical System are the most likely to not be named personally as a defendant in lawsuits. The doctors likely are not disclosed to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which tracks malpractice claims and acts as a data provider for background checks. In addition, the Maryland Board of Physicians, who is responsible for licensing, performance and investigations are not made aware either.
Martinez v. John Hopkins was a case that illustrated this topic. A family brought a malpractice claim against Johns Hopkins because of negligence in executing a child birth via Caesarean section. A nurse midwife inadvertently administered too much Pitocin, a drug used in childbirth, causing the baby to be deprived of oxygen. The child developed a host of serious conditions. The plaintiff filed a motion limine, citing that evidence of the midwife’s negligence was not relevant, excluding it from testimony. Meanwhile, the hospital denied liability and sought to prove that the midwife was the lone cause of the injuries. On appeal, the court ruled that evidence citing relevant negligence of a non-party may be heard by a jury.
A Baltimore Sun study regarding oversight & management of the state’s roughly 17,000 physicians revealed:
- Regulators were not aware of dozens of physicians with excessively high malpractice claim rates
- The department of Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution (HCADR), which handles intake of all potential claims, cited that over a two-year period, approximately 50% of the suits against Hopkins did not name a physician
- In the University of Maryland’s filings, roughly 30% of the claims in HCADR did not name a physician as a defendant.
- Often the suit excludes the doctors as a named defendant; however, buries the details of the physician’s alleged negligence in the text
Attorney Dennis O’Brien, of the Association of Maryland Trial Lawyers, explained that claims against Hopkins are more likely to progress to a settlement when filed without naming a physician. He says physicians are also enjoying shelter from unwanted negative publicity. A representative from Hopkins concurred that claims that eliminate doctors do tend to settle more rapidly. He went further to explain that Hopkins prefers to settle cases quickly when appropriate, and reduce lengthy litigation. Richard Kidwell, who had represented Hopkins in the past, explained that some jurors are more likely to lay blame on a large hospital system then a physician that they deem as accomplished and pleasant during a trial. Critics say that the general quality and safety of patient healthcare is being jeopardized through concealment of provider malpractice.