Maryland Court Defines “Related Specialty” Under the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Act

Under Maryland law, when a defendant doctor is board certified in a medical specialty, plaintiff’s expert testifying to the breach of the standard of care must be board certified in the same or a “related specialty.” Plaintiff’s medical error attorneys in Maryland have had a lot of sleepless nights over the definition of “related specialty.”surgeon1

In DeMuth v. Strong, a new opinion decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals last week, the plaintiff had a $1.68 million verdict resting in balance of what constituted a related specialty under Maryland medical malpractice law. In this Cecil County malpractice case, plaintiff brought a lawsuit and called as his expert witness a board certified vascular surgeon, who testified that an orthopedic surgeon breached the standard of care.

Plaintiff’s attorney had a qualified orthopedic expert testify as well, but wanted to let his causation expert also provide his opinion, probably because it was a strong opinion and maybe because it seems a little odd to the jury when a causation expert does not give his thoughts on damages. But plaintiff’s malpractice counsel was running the risk of having the case overturned on appeal if the appellate courts did not agree.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court and the risk that the plaintiff’s lawyer took in allowing the vascular surgeon to give a standard of care opinion. The court agreed that while in many contexts, a vascular surgeon is very different from an orthopedic surgeon, both fields are “related specialties” under the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Act for for the purpose of the medical issue in this case, which was the postoperative care of knee surgery patients.

The doctor also argued on appeal that he should have received partial summary judgment that should have excluded evidence of malpractice after the damage had been done to plaintiff’s leg. The court summarily dismissed these arguments, relying on the fact that there was clear testimony that plaintiff developed compartment syndrome as a result of these later acts of negligence.

You can read the court’s full opinion in DeMuth v. Strong here.

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