Malpractice Statute Applies in Federal Court Says Maryland Court of Special Appeals

In a new opinion by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the court answers the question of whether Maryland’s Health Claims Arbitration requirements should apply to cases filed in federal court where the malpractice occurred outside of Maryland. Certainly an important issue to address.

Lewis v. Waletzky involves a claim that a psychiatrist in Chevy Chase, Maryland negligently prescribed antipsychotic drugs for the Plaintiff, a Minnesota resident. So there was diversity of citizenship. The psychiatrist lived in Washington, D.C. and there was some issue of which substantive law applied but – spoiler alert – it ends up being irrelevant to the opinion. Plaintiff’s lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleged that Plaintiff’s psychiatric symptoms were mild and did not warrant subjecting the Plaintiff to the well known risk of an antipsychotic and justice

Plaintiff’s malpractice lawsuit in federal court alleged that as a result of these negligent prescriptions, the patient developed tardive dyskinesia, which is caused by the drug Reglan and some antipsychotics (I’m not sure what the drug was in this case.). There is no treatment for tardive dyskinesia, an awful neurological disorder that causes involuntary grimacing, protrusion of the tongue, lip smacking, rapid eye blinking, and movement of the extremities.

Going back, Plaintiff moved out of state and filed the case in federal court and did not meet the certificate of merit and other requirements imposed by the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act. The Fourth Circuit was unsure of whether the health claims arbitration act should be applied and asked the Maryland high court:

Does Maryland recognize the public policy exception, or any other exception, to lex loci delicti based on the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act, see Md. Code Ann., Cts & Jud. Proc., §§ 3-2A-01, et seq., which requires a plaintiff to comply with certain mandatory administrative filings prior to filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in a Maryland court?

Interestingly, the Court of Appeals seems to tell the the 4th Circuit and the parties that this is not a lex loci delicti case but instead focuses on whether the Act is substantive or procedural. Accordingly, the court found that Maryland statutory scheme for medical malpractice cases applies to federal court malpractice cases (Note: I think Judge Titus would disagree.) (Read this opinion.)

The dissenting opinion – Judge Adkins joined by Judge Murphy – argue that even the doctor’s malpractice lawyer did not argue that the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act was procedural. The dissent argues that it is bad jurisprudence to decide a case for a reason that was not briefed by the parties.

I’m not sure if Plaintiff was able to refile this case because I do not know what the statute of limitations was in the case. I’m guessing all of the hubbub is because the SOL had passed. Certainly, Plaintiff’s malpractice attorney could have made everyone’s life easier by just complying with the statute. But the idea that this case should be dismissed is completely insane to me.

You can read the full opinion here.

  • Mike Robertson

    I’m fine with this holding. The rules are the rules. Break them at your own peril.

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