Maryland Court of Appeals upholds multi-million dollar medical malpractice judgment

The Maryland Court of Appeals last Friday upheld a Baltimore County trial court’s denial of a physician’s motion for a new trial, after a jury awarded $13 million to a family whose child was born with severe cerebral palsy. The jury found that the physician breached his duty to obtain the mother’s informed consent to treatment when he treated her for a partial placental abruption, by failing to inform her of the risks and available alternative treatments related to changes in her pregnancy.

Our Annapolis Maryland medical malpractice attorneys have more than 30 years experiments representing plaintiffs in cases involving catastrophic birth injuries.

The case Spangler v. McQuitty et al, marked the second time the Court of Appeals examined the same set of facts. In 2009, the Court of Appeals held in McQuitty I that a patient may bring an informed consent claim in the absence of a battery or affirmative violation of the patient’s physicial integrity because a practitioner’s duty to inform a patient of material information that the practitioner knows or ought to know would be significant to a reasonable person in the patient’s position in deciding whether or not to submit to a particular medical treatment or procedure.

After overturning the trial court’s initial grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Baltimore County Circuit Court to address Dr. Spangler’s motion for remittur, which is a motion to reduce damages.

On remand, the trial court rejected Dr. Spangler’s request for remittur and post-trial relief. Dr. Spangler appealed, and the Court of Appeals granted a writ of certiorari to hear the case.

Prior to the trial court’s decision on Dr. Spangler’s motion for remittur, the child unfortunately died.

In last week’s decision, the Court of Appeals for the first time addressed the effect of a party’s death on a jury verdict for future medical expenses. The jury awarded the child’s parents $8,442,515 in future medical expenses, which Dr. Spangler argued the parents stopped incurring after their child died.

The Court ultimately held that while some states like Wisconsin have statutes to address such situations, Maryland does not. Although Maryland does have a statute permitting future economic damages to be annuitized, the trial court exercised its discretion not to grant an annuity award, which was not challenged on appeal.

In the absence of such statute addressing cessation of future medical damages, the Court joined several others states in deciding that “finality is the valued norm.” In other words, the Court granted deference to the jury’s verdict, which was likely based on a projections based on Plaintiff’s life expectancy.

Among the other rejected motions advanced by Dr. Spangler, the Court of Appeals held as follows:

  1. The Court rejected Dr. Spangler’s argument that McQuitty I substantively changed the law of informed consent in Maryland, thereby entitling him to a new trial. The Court found that there was no change in the Maryland common law, thereby affirming the trial Court’s rejection of his Motion for New Trial.
  2. The Court rejected Dr. Spangler’s argument that a hospital that settled its claim was a joint tortfeasor. The hospital settled its claim, but the jury did not find that the hospital was a joint tortfeasor. The benefit to Dr. Spangler was that if the hospital was determined to be a joint tortfeasor, he would ordinarily be entitled to a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the settlement paid by the hospital
  3. The Court rejected Dr. Spangler’s argument that the trial judge should have awarded post-judgment interest dating back to January 20, 2010, which is the date that the Court entered a judgment after McQuitty I was remanded to the Court. The trial court awarded post-judgment interest dating back to the initial judgment dated September 27, 2006, which the Court found was an exercise of the Court’s discretion.

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