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, including a specific statute of limitations for these cases. 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 Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings, section 5-109. The law says that a medical malpractice claim must be filed within five years after the injury happened, or within three years after the plaintiff (the injured patient) discovered or reasonably could have discovered the injury, whichever comes first.
This same law spells out special deadlines when the patients were under 11 at the time of the medical negligence. But the Maryland Court of Appeals has held that those deadlines in the law (when the patient turns 11 or 16, depending on the circumstances) violate the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Under the court's ruling, whenever a patient was younger than 18 at the time of the injury, the filing deadline "clock" starts when the patient turns 18 (Piselli v. 75th Street Medical, 808 A.2d 508 (Md. Ct. App. 2002).)
Finally, if the patient was mentally incapacitated when the alleged malpractice happened, the filing deadline will most likely be three years after the mental disability ends. That's according to standard exceptions applying to the statute of limitations for most kinds of civil cases in Maryland, found at Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings, section 5-201 (2021).
Having read all of this, you may be wondering what happens if you try to file your medical malpractice claim 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 ask to have your claim dismissed, the court will grant the request. That would be the end of your case—which is why it's so important not to miss the deadline.
Within 90 days after filing a medical malpractice claim in Maryland, you'll need to file a certificate in which a qualified medical expert swears under oath that he or she has reviewed your claim and believes both of the following:
If you don't file this certificate, your claim will probably be dismissed. However, you may ask the judge to modify or completely waive the certificate requirement. The judge may grant your request if you've provided a good reason.
The expert-certificate requirement is spelled out in Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings, sections 3-2A-04 and 3-2C-02 (2021).
Anytime you have a medical malpractice claim in Maryland that involves alleged damages over a certain limit ($30,000), you have to meet special requirements. First, you must file the initial claim and the expert certificate with Maryland's Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, rather than directly in court.
If you don't want your claim to go to arbitration—the default for these larger claims—you will need to file an written election to waive arbitration, within 60 days after the defendant health care provider(s) filed their own expert certificates. (The defendants may also choose to waive arbitration.)
Then, within 60 days after the arbitration waiver has been filed, you must file your medical malpractice complaint with the court. If you miss that 60-day deadline, a defendant may ask to have your case dismissed. The judge will grant that request if the delay in filing the complaint caused some harm to the defendant. That will be the end of your medical malpractice lawsuit.
These requirements are outlined in Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings, sections 3-2A-02, 3-2A-04, and 3-2A-06B (2021).
Like a number of states, Maryland has a law that places a "cap" on certain kinds of damages (compensation for losses resulting from the medical error) that are available to an injured patient who has been successful with a medical malpractice claim. Maryland's cap applies to noneconomic 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 injury happened. For injuries that happened in 2021, the cap is $845,000. The limit increases by $15,000 each year. That means, assuming no future legislative changes, you can add $15,000 per year for injuries that happen after 2021 and subtract that same amount per year for injuries that happened earlier.
Note that Maryland has a special cap for 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 noneconomic 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 noneconomic 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.
It's important to note that Maryland's cap has no effect on economic damages resulting from medical malpractice. 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.