Proving medical malpractice in Maryland requires a plaintiff to prove three elements: breach, causation and damages.
To establish breach, the plaintiff must first establish that a medical professional deviated from the applicable standard of care. The standard of care refers to the level of care a "reasonably competent" medical professional in similar circumstances with the same level of education and expertise would have provided to the patient.
Doctors are highly trained professionals who must make difficult decisions at critical times to protect a patient's health and well-being. Because the medical profession is so complex, Maryland courts have held that lay people are not equipped to form reasonable opinions about a physician's deviation from the standard of care. Therefore, expert witnesses are brought in to testify about their opinion on whether a specific healthcare professional violated the applicable standard of care.
Even if a plaintiff is able to prove that the medical provider failed to meet the acceptable standard of care, he or she may not be able to win the medical malpractice lawsuit. The plaintiff must also be able to prove that the professional's breach was the cause of the injury. In many cases, a doctor's breach does not actually result in personal injury or death.
Maryland law requires the plaintiff to establish that the medical professional's negligence or malpractice caused the plaintiff's injury. There are two types of causation: cause-in-fact and proximate cause. If a plaintiff would not have been injured "but for" the medical professional's wrongful act or omission, he or she can establish cause-in-fact. Proximate cause refers to the issue of whether the defendant's actions, when considering all relevant factors, were the legal cause of the injury.
When a medical professional fails to meet the appropriate standard of care, and that failure causes a patient's injury, the patient may have a legal claim for medical malpractice. However, the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case must be able to prove that the injury resulted in a loss. If a plaintiff cannot prove that the injury resulted in an economic, physical or emotional loss, the medical malpractice lawsuit will not succeed. Damages in medical malpractice cases can include out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and pain and suffering.
Forty-six states currently utilize a comparative negligence system that awards damages to an injured person in proportion to his or her degree of fault. Maryland is one of few U.S. jurisdictions to use contributory negligence in medical malpractice lawsuits. In fact, the highest court in Maryland recently upheld a law that prevents injured victims from recovering damages in a case involving negligence if they are determined to be partly at fault. To defend themselves from allegations of negligence in a jurisdiction that recognizes contributory negligence, hospitals and medical providers will attempt to place the blame on the plaintiff, arguing that the plaintiff was responsible to some degree for the injury. Plaintiffs who are found to have contributed in any way to their injury will not be able to receive any compensation.