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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, the 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 made up a related specialty under Maryland medical malpractice law. In this Cecil County malpractice case, the plaintiff sued 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, 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 the plaintiff’s malpractice counsel was risking 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 differs from an orthopedic surgeon, both fields are “related specialties” under the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Act for 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 a partial summary judgment that should have excluded evidence of malpractice after the damage had been done to the plaintiff’s leg. The court summarily dismissed these arguments, relying upon that there was clear testimony that the plaintiff developed compartment syndrome because of these later acts of negligence.

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

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