In its reported decision filed on January 29, 2015, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Appellate Court”), Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, added to the expanding list of Maryland appellate court decisions regarding what it takes to satisfy Maryland’s pleading requirements regarding Maryland medical malpractice lawsuits.
In particular, the Appellate Court had to decide if the trial court had properly dismissed the plaintiff’s Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit because the plaintiff’s certifying expert’s “report” allegedly failed to comply with Maryland’s pleading requirements in Maryland medical malpractice cases.
The Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act (“Act”) requires a claimant or plaintiff to file, with his or her medical malpractice claim or action, a certificate of a qualified expert and a report from a qualified certifying expert. Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-2A-04(b)(1)(i), (3)(i) (1974, 2013 Repl. Vol.) (“CJP”).
The Act specifies what the “certificate of a qualified expert” must attest to: it must state that there was a departure from standards of care, and that the departure from standards of care was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s alleged injury [CJP § 3-2A-04(b)(1)(i)], and it must mention explicitly the name of the licensed professional who allegedly breached the standard of care.
However, the Act does not specify what the “report” should contain: the Act only requires that the “report” be “attached” to the certificate. Prior Maryland appellate court decisions have discussed what must be stated in a report and have concluded that the report of an attesting expert must state what the applicable standard of care is and provide some information as to how or why the defendant physician had not met that standard.
In the present case, the Appellate Court held that the plaintiff’s qualified expert’s report was legally sufficient and that the circuit court erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s claim on the basis of an insufficient certificate of qualified expert. The Appellate Court further stated that even if it had found the report insufficient, it could still consider the expert’s certificate and report together to determine whether both documents, collectively, satisfied the requirements of the Act (“the Court of Appeals has made clear that the certificate and report of the plaintiff’s expert, together, make up the “certificate of qualified expert” required by the Health Care Malpractice Claims Act”).
The Appellate Court held that it was permitted to view the certificate and report of the plaintiff’s attesting expert together and determine whether those documents do the following: identify the defendant physician; state that the defendant breached the applicable standard of care; opine that such a departure from the standard of care was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and provide some details as to what the standard of care was and how the defendant physician failed to meet it (“[t]he important determination to be made would be whether the [plaintiff’s] expert certificate and report, when viewed as a whole, satisfied all of the Act’s requirements”).
In the case it was deciding, the Appellate Court held that the plaintiff’s expert report satisfied the requirements of the Act by supplementing the expert’s certificate of qualified expert and providing details explaining how the defendant allegedly departed from the applicable standard of care in his performance of an inferior vena cava filter placement procedure on the decedent. The Appellate Court further held that even if it had determined that the expert’s report alone was informationally insufficient, the report and the certificate together do contain sufficient information to satisfy the requirements of the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act – either approach leads to the same result that the plaintiff had filed a legally sufficient expert certificate and report with its medical malpractice claim.
Philip Powell, Personal Representative of the Estate of Beatrice C. Powell v. Alex Wurm, No. 0782. Click here to read the Appellate Court’s opinion.
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