November 2011 Archives

November 4, 2011

Maryland assumption of risk defense requires actual knowledge of risk

snowy path.jpgTwo recent plaintiff-friendly Maryland Court of Appeals decisions have refined the "assumption of risk" defense that is often raised in personal injury and accident cases.

Our Annapolis Maryland Accident Attoneys have years of experience representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases as a result of accidents, including slip and fall cases.

Both cases, Poole v. Coakley, and Thomas v. Panco Management, concern submission of personal injury cases to the jury in light of the defense of assumption of risk. In both cases, the trial judge did not submit the issue of negligence to the jury. The Maryland Court of Appeals held that both trial judges erred in their rulings.

The Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions currently defines assumption of the risk as follows: "A Plaintiff cannot recover if the plaintiff has assumed the risk of injury. A person assumes the risk of an injury if that person knows and understands the risk of an existing danger or reasonably should have known and understood the risk of an existing danger, and voluntarily chooses to encounter the risk."

After these two decisions, the Civil Pattern Jury Instruction will likely be modified to indicate that a person assumes the Risk only if he actually knew of an existing danger, not just that he "would, should, or could" have known of an existing danger.

The Poole case concerned the liability of a construction company for the injuries of a plaintiff who slipped on "black ice" while walking through a stream of water through an otherwise icy parking lot. The nature of the "black ice" was such that the plaintiff did not actually know that the danger was present, and therefore the Court of Appeals held it was error to grant the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of assumption of risk.

The Thomas case concerned the liability of an apartment management company for a tenant's injuries after she slipped on "Black Ice." Her testimony was that the "black ice" was positioned near the only entry and exit for her building. The trial judge granted Defendant's Motion for Judgment, holding that the Plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries. The Court of Appeals reversed holding that Plaintiff's knowledge of the risk of slipping on black ice, and the voluntariness of her conduct were questions of fact to be resolved by the jury, rather than the trial judge.

Both cases will likely be retried, where a jury will determine whether the defendants were negligent.

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November 2, 2011

Anesthesiologist pays $8.2 million for recommending former drug-abusing colleague

A Louisiana anesthesiologist who wrote a glowing recommendation on behalf of a fellow anesthesiologist to a hospital in Washington State, despite knowledge of the doctor's habit of diverting Demerol from his patients, was ordered to pay $8.2 million to pay for the damages that resulted when the doctor and hospital was sued for medical malpractice.

Our Baltimore Annapolis Maryland medical malpractice attorneys have more than 30 years representing Plaintiffs who have been injured by medical errors.

According to a Report in Outpatient Surgery Magazine, Louisiana Anesthesia Associates (LAA) terminated Robert Lee Berry, MD, in 2001 over concerns that he had a problem with substance abuse. William J Preau III, MD was also a member of LAA and participated in the decision to terminate Berry. Even after this, however, Dr. Preau wrote a glowing recommendation to Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, Washington stating: "[Dr. Berry] is an excellent anesthesiologist. He is capable in all fields of anesthesia including OB, peds, C.V. and all regional blocks. I recommend him highly."

Kadlec Medical Center hired Berry. One year later, Berry was under the influence, failed to properly administer anesthesia to a patient, and the patient fell into a permanent vegetative state. The patient's family sued Dr. Berry and Kadlec medical center. The case was settled with Dr. Berry paying $1 million and the hospital paying $7.5 million.

Feeling misled by Dr. Preau's letter, the hospital sought indemnity - repayment of their settlement and legal fees - by suing Dr. Preau and Louisiana Anesthesia Associates (LAA) for intentional misrepresentation, resulting in a new round of litigation in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The federal jury awarded $8.2 million to Kadlec for damages that resulted from its settlement with the patient and the medical damages, which was apportioned based on the comparative fault of Dr. Preau and Louisiana Anesthesia Associates. On appeal, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment against LAA, because LAA provided only a neutral recommendation (i.e. a response only indicating that the former employee had been on its medical staff and does not vouch for his credentials). Moreover, the person who prepared LAA's letter indicated that she did not know anything about Dr. Berry's termination and other problems, which were kept confidential. See full text of the Appellate Court's Decision.

The end result was that Dr. Preau was left to fulfill the entire $8.2 million judgment to Kadlec. He filed several lawsuits to have his medical malpractice carrier indemnify him, all of which failed. According to the Outpatient Surgery Article, Preau ended up satisfying the judgment in full.

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