Compared with other injury-related legal claims, a medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking. That's true in every state, not just Maryland. Legal issues and medical evidence can get very complicated in these cases, and the plaintiff (the injured patient, or his or her legal representative) needs to understand the special procedural rules that come into play. In this article, we'll look at some key Maryland medical malpractice laws, including the "certificate of qualified expert" requirement, the statutory lawsuit-filing deadline, and caps on compensation.
Like a lot of states, Maryland has several medical malpractice lawsuit requirements, and has enacted a specific statute of limitations for them. But first, some background for readers who may not be fluent in "legalese": A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after you have suffered some type of harm (such as an injury or a financial loss). There are different deadlines depending on the kind of case you want to file.
Maryland’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-109, and it says that a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within five years of the time that the injury was committed, or within three years of the date the injury was discovered, whichever comes first.
Keep in mind that if you are relying on the three-year "discovery" portion of the statute, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not discover -- and you could not have reasonably discovered -- the occurrence of the underlying medical error until the time when you finally took action.
Maryland has specified special lawsuit-filing rules for harm suffered by patients who were under the age of 11 at the time the medical negligence occurred. In most situations, the statute of limitations "clock" doesn't start running until the patient reaches the age of 11. For patients who were under 16 and suffered either harm to the reproductive system or injury caused by the presence of a foreign object, the filing deadline "clock" starts when the patient reaches the age of 16. And finally, if the patient was under a mental disability at the time the underlying malpractice occurred, or was under 18 at the time, the filing deadline will most likely be set at three years from the date on which the mental disability ends or the person turns 18. That's according to standard exceptions applying to the statute of limitations for most kinds of civil cases filed in Maryland, found at Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-201.
Having read all of this, you may be wondering what happens if you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has already passed (and no exception applies to alter or extend the filing deadline). In that situation, it’s a safe bet that the doctor or health care facility you’re trying to sue will file a legal motion asking the court to dismiss the case, the court will grant the request, and that will be the end of your lawsuit. That's why it's so important to understand and comply with the medical malpractice statute of limitations.
Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 3-2C-02 says that within 90 days of the filing of any medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland's courts, the plaintiff must file a "certificate of a qualified expert" in which a qualified medical expert swears under oath that he or she has reviewed the plaintiff's case, and believes that the defendant health care provider failed to act within the accepted medical standard of care when treating the plaintiff.
A few more important details on the "certificate of qualified expert" requirement in Maryland:
Like a number of states, Maryland has passed a law that places a "cap" on certain kinds of damages (compensation) that are available to a plaintiff who has been successful in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Currently, Maryland has a cap on non-economic damages in any malpractice claim arising from the same medical injury, regardless of how many defendants (hospital, doctor, or other licensed health care provider), claimants, or beneficiaries there are.
This cap, which is set by Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 3-2A-09, varies depending on when the lawsuit is/was filed:
Since 2009, the cap has been set to increase by $15,000 each year. That means, assuming no future legislative changes, you can add $15,000 per year for lawsuits filed beyond 2020. So, for example, the cap is $845,000 for lawsuits filed in 2021, $860,000 for cases filed in 2022, and so on. For medical malpractice lawsuits filed prior to 2017, subtract $15,000 for each year (so the cap is $770,000 for cases filed in 2016, $755,000 for 2015 cases, et cetera).
Note that there is a special cap formula for Maryland medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death, where there are two or more "claimants or beneficiaries." In those cases, according to section 3-2A-09, total non-economic damages for all actions cannot exceed 125% of that year's cap (as listed above), "regardless of the number of claims, claimants, plaintiffs, beneficiaries, or defendants."
So, what are non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case? It is a category of damages that includes compensation for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring, and other negative effects of the medical negligence. These kinds of damages aren’t easily captured by a dollar figure, and they are more subjective from plaintiff to plaintiff.
It’s important to note that Maryland's cap has no effect on the other main category of medical malpractice damages available to a plaintiff: economic damages. Those include compensation for past medical expenses, payment for ongoing medical care, reimbursement for lost income, and compensation for any harm to the plaintiff’s ability to earn a living.
If you're looking for more specifics on Maryland's medical malpractice laws and how they apply to your potential case, it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area.