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Maryland Medical Malpractice and the Reasonable Person Standard


A fascinating case involving medical malpractice and the standard of care is playing out in the Maryland courts at the moment. On a larger level, this case could have a widespread impact on how juries evaluate medical malpractice claims in the future. In order to make sense of this legal development, the following sections will explore important background facts and key court decisions.

Background Facts

On January 17, 2012, the Patient sought to receive medical treatment for lingering neck and shoulder pain as well as numbness in his right hand. The Patient consulted with the Doctor, a proficient neurosurgeon. The Doctor explained available treatment options to the Patient, including surgical and nonsurgical procedures. Ultimately, the Patient agreed to follow the Doctor’s advice and proceed with surgical treatment.

On March 1, 2012, the Doctor performed the surgery and removed several impaired discs from the Patient’s spine. The Patient did not experience any immediate issues after the surgery. But in the weeks and months afterward — from March to August 2012 — the Patient experienced an opening of the incision as well as chest pain and numbness in his left arm.

On August 17, 2012, the Patient went to the emergency room for immediate medical treatment. At that time, the Patient was experiencing a painful swelling in his neck as well as feverish symptoms. Hospital staff determined that the incision opening had become infected. The resulting abscess showed signs of a staph infection.

On September 3, 2014, the Patient filed a claim with the Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office. After waiving the right to arbitration, the Patient sued the Doctor for medical malpractice and lack of informed consent.

Baltimore County Circuit Court

Over the course of a five-day trial, attorneys for the Patient and Doctor presented their arguments and evidence. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge delivered instructions to the jury before the deliberation period.

In most cases of medical malpractice, the jury must consider what a reasonable doctor would have done under the circumstances. That is referred to as the standard of care. But in this case, the judge allowed the jurors to consider what a reasonable layperson would have done in the same circumstances. Stated otherwise, the jurors could consider the standard of care for laypeople as well as medical professionals.

On May 25, 2016, the jury delivered their verdict. The jury determined that there was informed consent. But they also concluded that the Doctor committed medical malpractice. The jury awarded the Patient damages in the amount of $329,000.

Maryland Court of Special Appeals

In light of the Circuit Court result, the Doctor filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Specifically, the Doctor argued that it was improper for the jury to consider this case based on a reasonable person standard. Instead, the jury should have considered their decision based on the standard of care of other doctors.

The Court of Special Appeals considered oral arguments from both parties. Then the court decided that it was improper to allow the jury to consider a reasonable person standard. As a result, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the Circuit Court’s decision and ordered a new trial.

At this point, the Patient has filed an appeal with the highest court in Maryland, the Court of Appeals. After attorneys for the Patient and Doctor conduct oral arguments, the Court of Appeals will render a final decision. Until then, this case will continue to be in a holding pattern.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you have legal questions about medical malpractice in Maryland, it can be especially helpful to speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. The attorneys at Iamele & Iamele, LLP in Baltimore, Maryland, have long-standing experience in the field of personal injury law, including medical malpractice cases. If you need legal help, contact us today for a free initial consultation.

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