Ford v. United States | New Maryland Malpractice Opinion

maryland-lawA U.S. federal court judge made a ruling on some motions that are of interest to Maryland medical malpractice attorneys.  They deal with a motion for summary judgment and, a pet interest of mine, holding defendants feet to the fire when they give garbage answers to requests for admission.

This is a birth injury claim against Defendants Calvert Memorial Hospital of Calvert County, that hospital’s emergency room and emergency room doctor, and the United States.  The government is a defendant for care given at Andrews Air Force Base.

Plaintiff  got prenatal care on Andrews Air Force Base.   A month before delivering, the mom-to-be presented with high blood pressure and had laboratory studies with elevated proteins, symptoms that indicate some risk of preeclampsia.  Three weeks later, the woman gives birth to her daughter at Calvert Memorial Hospital.

Five days later, she presents back to the hospital with high blood pressure,  headache, nausea, “tingly” feeling, and feeling light headed. She was evaluated by the defendant emergency department doctor.  He gave her a head  CT which was thought to be normal and they found no protein in her urine.  She was discharged with instructions to follow up with her OB/GYN which she did the very next day because she was still doing poorly.

The woman went to the OB/GYN at Andrews with a blood pressure of 181/93 and she still had a headache. Her OB  treated the pressure symptoms by prescribing an anti-hypertensive.  She was discharged.  Again. That night, she went to the ER at Andrews and had a seizure in the waiting room.

What happened? She had a brain hemorrhage from preplampsia.

A lawsuit follows.  Many, many medical malpractice lawsuits are contentious.  But malpractice claims like this where there are multiple target defendants almost always lead to World War III.  And this case has delivered as promised: motions to compel answers to requests for admission, oppositions to request for more time, failed mediation, battles of ex parte communications with doctor, Facebook discovery battles, motions to seal exhibits, and so forth.  It is one of those “who loses the slowest” pieces of litigation.

Summary Judgment

The big issue the court was addressed with for this opinion is whether to grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment.  Plaintiff had just one causation expert and one standard of care expert.

This battle on summary judgment is fought deep in the weeds.  They claim the plaintiff’s standard of care expert only testified to his own standard of care, not what the doctor had an obligation to do.  How do they do this?  But nitpicking word choice.  The court did not have much to say about this issue.  Presumably, the court was not going to raise silly technicalities over the clear substance of the expert’s testimony.

The bigger claim was that even assuming the doctor was able to get the patient’s blood pressure down, the plaintiffs’ own causation expert could not say that the alleged negligence caused the injury.   This is one of those things that absolutely terrifies you when you get the motion.  But this is just one of the expert’s opinions and what the defendant did was take one statement out of context and try to get the entire case dismissed as a result. [I got half way through the details but hit delete because it was too specific for the scope of this post.  It is fair to say that the defense had a point… until you considered the full context.]  It is pretty hard to blow these kinds of arguments past a federal court judge.

Requests for Admission Battle

Requests for admission are a good tool for parties in malpractice cases and they are a good tool for judicial economy.  Why more attorneys do not use them is a mystery to me. Actually, it is not entirely a mystery.  One reason no one uses them is that getting anything other than obstructionist answers is near impossible.  But this plaintiffs’ lawyer did what he should do and held plaintiffs’ feet to the fire.  So they modified their ridiculous “vague and overbroad” objections to something more substantive that was still not remotely substantive.   He filed a motion to compel.

Most of the requests were to narrow down the plaintiffs’ medical history.

It is not worth getting too deep into the details of these requests either. But  most of the requests went something like this:

Q: Admit that, prior to the pregnancy, Ms. Ford did not have a history high blood pressure?

A:  This Defendant lacks sufficient information to either admit or deny the information set forth in this request insofar as this Defendant has not been provided with mental health records dating back to adolescence for Angela Ford and therefore denies the same.

The court found that the defendants really could not know with certainty the answer and qualified it appropriately. I’m eager to disagree with the court on this but it is hard.  I think the question could have been better framed by saying “you have no evidence that” because it is a little hard to prove that negative.

It will be interesting to hear how this case resolves.

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