Medical malpractice cases are very state specific. Some rules even vary by the individual county, courthouse, or judge assigned to your case. This is why it is important to find an experienced medical malpractice lawyer with experience handling cases just like yours. A local Maryland medical error lawyer will understand the specific state and local court rules for taking your civil lawsuit to trial. A top trial attorney may even have experience with the specific hospital and doctors in your case.
Even after you understand the medical malpractice lawsuit rules for Baltimore injury claims, it is important to have an advocate on your side who not only knows the rules but knows how to apply them for your benefit. Malpractice claims can be complex and take a lot of time and resources. Make sure your lawyer has a history of success with malpractice claims to give you the best chance to recover a significant award.
How to File a Medical Malpractice Claim in Maryland
A medical malpractice case is a type of civil lawsuit. Medical malpractice and personal injury claims are known as “torts,” where an injury victim is looking to recover damages for being wronged by the negligent defendant. In a medical malpractice case, it is generally a patient who is trying to recover damages from the doctor or hospital for negligent medical treatment.
There are a lot of legal rules for taking a case to court. These rules can be based on state statutes, case law, and the long legal history of the United States. Many of our legal rules and regulations were adapted from old English law but still apply today. Some of the important legal rules a medical malpractice claim has to follow include:
- Time limits on filing a claim
- Filing the case in the proper legal venue
- Naming and serving the defendants
- Certification from a medical expert
- Pretrial motions
- Damages and caps on noneconomic damages
- Settlement options
- Collecting damages after an award
Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice
The statute of limitations is the time limit to file a civil lawsuit. The Maryland court rules regarding the statute of limitations are very strict. This means that if you file your claim even one day late, your claim may be denied. This is why it is so important to contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible after an injury, to make sure your claim is filed in time.
How long you have to bring a medical malpractice claim in Maryland depends on a number of factors, including:
- State where the injury occurred
- Age of the injury victim
- When the injury was discovered
- If the claim involves a government agency
In Maryland, most medical malpractice claims must be filed within five years of the date the injury occurred, or within three years from the date the injury was discovered, whichever is earlier (§ 5-109). For medical injuries that were discovered on or shortly after the medical treatment, most injury victims only have 3 years to file their claim.
Three years sounds like a long time but many injury victims still have difficulty deciding to file a lawsuit and going through the process of finding the right lawyer in Maryland. The patient may have known about the injury but be unsure if they have a strong enough case to recover damages. Shortly after an injury, the victim may underestimate the severity of their damages. It may take years before the victim understands how serious and costly the mistake really is.
The date of discovery includes the day the plaintiff should have reasonably discovered the injury. For example, in a foreign object surgical injury, the patient may not know that the doctor negligently left a surgical item behind after treatment. The patient may continue to suffer for months or years before the cause of their injury is discovered. However, even with a late discovery of the injury, the victim is still limited in their ability to file a lawsuit.
Minors under the age of 18, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the child turns 18. This means that for most minor medical malpractice cases, the injury victim has until their 21st birthday to file a claim.
If a loved one was fatally injured because of a medical malpractice error, family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims in Maryland must be filed within three years of the death of the patient or within three years of when the patient should have discovered the injury (§ 3-904).
Timeline for a Medical Malpractice Case
A medical malpractice case can take a long time. If a case goes to trial, it may take 2 or more years from the time the patient suffers an injury to the time a jury finds the doctor liable for damages. In some cases, the case may even be appealed by the negligent doctor, which could further extend the time to collect damages for your injuries. Why does a medical malpractice case take so long? There are several reasons.
The statute of limitations gives the injury victims time to discover their injuries and time to evaluate how serious the consequences of the negligent injury are. For example, a minor child who suffered a birth injury may have up to 8 years to file a claim. This means the case may not even begin until 8 years after the injury. Late discovery of the injury may also give the injury victim more time to file a claim.
Medical malpractice cases can be complex, involving difficult medical questions about the cause of the injury, extent of damages, and lifelong losses the victim will suffer into the future caused by the injury. Some malpractice claims involve dozens of defendants, including doctors, hospitals, specialists, nurses, and other providers. It takes time to question all the parties involved and review the extensive medical records. This can make the discovery process last for years.
Even after discovery, the parties may go through pretrial motion practice, trying to limit the scope of issues in court. As with each court appearance and motion, the injury victim is limited to the scheduling conflicts of the plaintiff’s lawyer, defendants’ lawyers, judge’s schedule, and the court calendar. It is very common for hearings to be rescheduled or delayed, sometimes for months.
If you have questions about how long your Maryland medical malpractice case could take, talk to your lawyer so you have a realistic idea of what to expect.
Affidavit of Merit Certification From Expert
The healthcare industry has lobbied to make it harder for injury victims to file claims. One of the requirements for a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland involves a certificate of merit or affidavit of merit. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must file an affidavit of merit within 90 days of filing a Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office claim.
This is one of the requirements for a medical malpractice claim under the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act (HCMCA). Under Maryland law, a malpractice claim may be dismissed if the plaintiff fails to file a certificate of a qualified expert within 90 days from the date of the complaint. The certificate attests to departure from standards of care and that the departure from standards of care is the proximate cause of the alleged injury.
The certificate of merit generally comes from a qualifying medical expert that states that the plaintiff has a legitimate claim. The expert certification may include evidence of the expert’s qualifications, including that the expert:
- Possesses a current medical license
- Has taught at an academic institution or practiced medicine in a related area to the claim
- Has board certification in a related medical field
The purpose of the affidavit is to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits filed against doctors. With the certification, there is an extra level of support from an experienced doctor who has reviewed the medical record and believes there was a deviation from the standard of care that caused an injury.
Experts are extremely important in medical malpractice cases. Medical experts can be used to educate and persuade the jury about the specifics of medical care. A doctor can tell the jury what a doctor is supposed to do during a certain medical procedure and help the jury understand what happens if the doctor fails to follow standards of care.
Are There Caps on Damages?
One of the most difficult aspects of Maryland malpractice law for injury victims is finding out about damages caps. Even though about half of states have no caps on damages or the courts found caps to be unconstitutional, many states still have caps on noneconomic damages. Maryland is one of the states with a damages cap.
What is a cap on damages? A cap means that the injury victim cannot receive more than a certain amount in a medical malpractice award for noneconomic damages. Non-economic damages include losses caused by pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium.
Under Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-2A-05, “an award or verdict under this subtitle for noneconomic damages” cannot exceed a certain amount. In Maryland, the cap for medical malpractice and noneconomic damages is adjusted for inflation. For malpractice claims arising between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, the cap will be $890,000. For 2022 claims, the cap will be $905,000. For claims arising in 2023, the cap will be $920,000.
To make matters worse, the jury may not even find out about the caps. For example, in a birth injury claim, a jury may award the injury victim $2 million in economic damages and $2 million in noneconomic damages. The jury may believe they are compensating the child and family $4 million for their injuries. However, the $2 million award for noneconomic damages will be reduced to the maximum under the cap.
Naming the Right Defendants and Doctors
Part of the complex process of filing a medical malpractice case is identifying all the defendants and parties that may be involved. In a complex medical case, the patient may have been treated by dozens of doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, and other healthcare workers. It can be difficult to know which doctors caused the injury through medical malpractice because there may have been multiple acts of negligence that contributed to the injury.
In most med mal cases, the complaint is filed naming the known healthcare providers and may also include “john doe” or “jane doe” indicators for the providers that may not be known. Over the course of discovery, the complaint can be amended to clarify the names and identities of care providers. The named doctors who were not involved in the patient’s malpractice claim may later be dropped from the case. Over time between filing the complaint and going to trial, the names of the doctors and defendants can change and evolve.
The Discovery Process in a Maryland Medical Malpractice Case
The discovery process involves gathering and reviewing evidence, testimony, statements, and records. The amount of discovery in a medical malpractice case can be extensive. It may include hundreds or thousands of pages of medical records, x-rays, prescriptions, bills, test results, hospital records, and other relevant documentation. Other types of discovery include:
- Site visits
- Medical examinations
- Expert reports
- Requests for production
- Photo and video evidence
In some cases, the hospital or doctor will not want to hand over certain evidence that should be shared in discovery. Your attorney may have to file a motion to compel discovery. The court may also hold a pre-trial hearing for admissibility. If the judge rules in your favor, the hospital must release the file for admission into the court record.
Can I Settle My Claim With a Baltimore Hospital?
Most medical malpractice cases are settled before going to trial. In fact, less than about 10% of malpractice cases are decided by a jury. Instead, the parties can negotiate for a settlement amount that each side will agree to. It is up to the injury victim and not your lawyer to decide whether or not to accept the settlement. However, your attorney can offer you advice and negotiate to get the maximum settlement offer available so you can avoid the time and stress of going through trial.
Talk to your attorney about what you might be able to expect the settlement process will be like. Initial settlement offers may be nothing or very little money. However, as the case gets closer to trial, both sides may have a greater incentive to settle the case and avoid the unpredictability of going through a jury trial.
Do I Have a Strong Malpractice Claim in Maryland?
If you have any questions about recovering damages after a medical injury, talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case and help you understand your legal options. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.