July 17, 2019

Maryland’s Health Care Malpractice Claims Act (“the Health Care Claims Act”), codified in Maryland Code (1976, 2013 Repl. Vol.), Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article (“CJP”), § 3-2A-01, et seq., mandates that claims against a health care provider seeking damages (if the amount claimed is in excess of the concurrent jurisdiction of the District Court) for a “medical injury” (as defined in the Act) must first be filed with the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office (“HCADRO”). CJP § 3-2A-04(a).

On December 4, 2013, a security guard at a Maryland hospital came to the aid of a patient care technician who was being physically assaulted by a patient. The patient turned his attention to the security guard and began to choke him while threatening to kill him. In the skirmish, the security guard sustained physical injuries.

The security guard filed a complaint (civil lawsuit) in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland against the hospital and the emergency room physicians, alleging that they had been negligent in failing to properly assess and determine the mental status of the patient and in failing to properly monitor and restrain an unstable, violent patient, which was the proximate cause of the injuries he sustained.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the complaint alleged medical injury within the scope of the Health Care Claims Act, which motion the trial court granted. The security guard did not appeal the dismissal of his circuit court complaint but did subsequently file a Statement of Claim with the HCADRO, seeking damages for the same incident and injuries that had been the subject of his first complaint filed in the circuit court. The security guard subsequently waived arbitration, as permitted by the Health Care Claims Act, CJP § 3-2A-06B(b), and then filed his second complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. The defendants again filed motions to dismiss, arguing that the complaint was filed after the statute of limitations applicable to claims against health care providers, set forth in CJP § 5-109(a), had expired. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the security guard’s second complaint. The security guard then appealed.

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Maryland Appellate Court”), Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, affirmed the dismissal in an unreported opinion dated June 24. 2019. The Maryland Appellate Court stated that the question of whether the claims asserted by the security guard sought damages for a “medical injury” arising out of the defendants’ professional negligence as health care providers was not before it because that specific issue was decided in the prior ruling of the circuit court that dismissed the security guard’s earlier complaint and became final when he failed to appeal the dismissal: “the lack of any appeal precludes relitigation of that issue.”

The Maryland Appellate Court cited a prior Court of Appeals of Maryland decision (Maryland’s highest appellate court) that rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims asserting professional negligence on the part of her health care providers could proceed even though her statement of claim was not filed with HCADRO until after the applicable statute of limitations as set forth in CJP § 5-109(a) had expired. The Maryland Appellate Court also discussed another Court of Appeals decision that had held that a plaintiff’s initial filing in the ADR Office tolled the three-year general statute of limitations with regard to certain claims (i.e., the claims that did not assert professional negligence could proceed but the Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claims asserting professional negligence on the part of her health care providers could proceed).

The Maryland Appellate Court held that the circuit court had properly dismissed the plaintiff’s second complaint.

Source Shepherd v. Doctor’s Community Hospital, No. 849 September Term, 2018.

If you or a loved one may have suffered a medical injury as a result of medical negligence in Maryland or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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