eNotes: Liability – August 2022 – Maryland
August 02, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
MD CASE SUMMARY
Wadsworth v. Sharma
Maryland Court of Appeal
No. 40, September Term, 2021
Decided: July 15, 2022
The Court of Appeals of Maryland continues stare decisis, holding that a Plaintiff in a wrongful death medical malpractice suit must continue to prove proximate causation.
In 2006, Plaintiff’s wife was diagnosed with Stage IIIC breast cancer in her left breast. Following successful treatments, Plaintiff’s wife was given follow-up PET/CT scans in 2006, 2007 and 2008 to determine if the breast cancer returned; each scan returned negative results. In 2013, Plaintiff’s wife underwent additional PET/CT scanning which revealed a cancerous lesion on her clavicle. The performing physician did not report the results of the 2013 scanning and three years after the abnormal scan, Plaintiff’s wife passed as a result of metastatic adenocarcinoma compatible with breast primary. Plaintiff commenced legal action in the Baltimore County Circuit Court, claiming survival and wrongful death.
Defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that Plaintiff’s legal theory was the loss of chance doctrine, a legal theory is not recognized in Maryland. Deposition testimony revealed that there is no cure for metastasis and the average person lives eighty months from the date of an abnormal scan. The Circuit Court granted Defendants’ Motion, holding that “[i]t is without dispute that the proximate cause and actual, sole cause of [Plaintiff’s wife] death was the metastatic . . . breast cancer.” Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, which upheld the Circuit Court. Plaintiff next appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which granted certiorari.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland classified these facts as a loss of chance case and held that loss of chance cases are not recognized in Maryland. First, the Court interpreted the Wrongful Death Act, finding that it remained virtually unchanged since its inception, with changes primarily made to the statute of limitations. Next, the Court dissected the history of the loss chance doctrine, finding that in the medical malpractice context, it is defined as “permit[ing] a claimant to recover where a physician’s breach of the standard of care . . . caused the loss of a statistical chance of survival or of a better outcome.” The Court then examined Maryland case law which only allows recovery in the medical malpractice context when “the conduct of a defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a proximate cause.” The Court followed stare decisis, refusing to upend the causation standard in Maryland medical malpractice suits. Medical malpractice plaintiffs in Maryland will be barred from recovery if they cannot establish that the Defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
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