Archive for the ‘Law in Baltimore, Maryland’ Category

Week in Review: (July 2 – July 9, 2011) Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Eye Opener’s Week in Review

From the guest editor:         Good morning! I was hoping that you would take a break from making your “to do” list to stop by and check in with us. As usual, we have been busy blogging. And practicing law. And getting ready for trial. And in trial! Needless to say, we have been pushing it to the limits. In truth, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Before we get back to trial preparation, lets take a step back and look at the past week.

–Jason Penn, guest editor

Litigating for the Sake of Litigating: A Temptation to Be Resisted

By Jon Stefanuca

What do you do when your opposing counsel forgets that the practice of law is a profession and not a blood sport? What do you do when the phase “zealous representation” gets confused with “obnoxious obstructionist behavior?” When faced with similar frustrations, Jon Stefanuca broke out his keyboard and explained what we litigators deal with on a day to day basis. Being a lawyer is a very rewarding profession, but like any other, it has its share of frustrations. Don’t take my word for it, read more…

Can Copper Surfaces and Duct Tape Reduce Hospital Infections and Deaths?

By Sara Keogh

Germs are in your kitchen.  They are in your bathroom and your bedroom.  They are on your fingertips and even on your tongue.  And everyone knows that there are going to be germs in hospitals. Even the best hospitals have to work to keep the patients, rooms and visitors clean and safe.  Sara Keogh reported on news that may make keeping hospitals and other health care environments less germy in the future. Two simple solutions, copper and duct tape, might have a major impact on infection control.  Read more…

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead:

The Eye Opener and its writers are excited about the week ahead too!  Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for you:

  • Service dogs for children:  more than just a pet
  • Legal Boot Camp is back in session and Part IV of our Cerebral Palsy tutorial.
  • And more!

Images courtesy of:

www.lifehack.org

www.mountainpulse.blogspot.org

 

Litigating for the Sake of Litigating: A Temptation to Be Resisted

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

It really grinds my gears when attorneys start litigating for the sake of litigating without context or purpose. That’s right; I bet if you are a litigator, you know exactly what I am referring to.  I am litigator, and I am absolutely convinced that we would all be better lawyers and happier individuals if we just learned how to do our job with dignity and professionalism, while avoiding absurd tactics and unnecessary drama.

Maybe I am alone on this one (and part of me really wishes that I am), but I just don’t understand why some lawyers think it is beneficial to have one gear and one gear only during the litigation process –  to object and obstruct no matter what. Is it really necessary, for example, to resist any and all discovery requests by dreaming up objections that have no merit?  In the end, is impeding the flow of information during discovery really in the client’s best interest, and frankly, is it consistent with our ethical obligations as professionals?  It is my humble impression that this kind of obstructive behavior happens more than one might expect. So, we end up writing unnecessary motions and nasty letters and emails, we go to depositions to argue some more with the opposing attorney instead of focusing on the witness, and we create so much “bad blood” that the case becomes one about lawyers and not their clients. Is this consistent with our professional obligations? I certainly think not.

Isn’t it in the client’s best interest to share as much information as possible about the merits of the case so that the opposing party can make informed decisions about settling the case early instead of dragging the parties through litigation for years? Why would a plaintiff’s lawyer not want a defendant to know the nature of his claims, the extent of his damages, and the identity and subject matter of his experts’ testimony?  Sharing this type of information is exactly the reason why a Plaintiff is in litigation in the first place.

Similarly, doesn’t it help a defense lawyer to be a straight shooter early on in the discovery process so that the plaintiff will not go on to note 100 depositions and use every discovery tool just to make sure that defense counsel isn’t hiding something? If the defense to a case is weak, isn’t better for all parties to be on the same page (yes, even when a corporate defendant is not in the mood to hear bad news) so that a case that must be settled can be settled early without making defendant incur unnecessary defense costs? Pardon my cynicism, but since I am on my soapbox, let me say this as well: the interest in having billing time should never be a substitute for the client’s best interest.  One byproduct of being evasive in discovery is that the defendant client (especially a corporate client) might end up being misinformed about the merits of the case – not a good position to be in when the lawyer finally comes to his/her senses and recommends settlement, but the client is not on the same page.

We have got to stop taking positions that have no good faith basis.  If there is no evidence of contributory negligence, don’t claim contributory negligence.  If experts are retained to testify at trial before the expert designation deadline, don’t object to their disclosure during written discovery simply because the expert designation is not due for another three months. If you can’t resist speaking objections, there are better places than a deposition to hear yourself talk.  If you have to file a motion, file one because you have to, not because you got a new crop of summer associates or first year associates doing nothing but writing motions for the sake of writing motions. I can go on, and I am sure that, if you’re a litigator, you can contribute to this list.

Life is too short and our occupations too stressful to engage in the meaningless waste of spirit. Time spent on useless litigation could be time spend with our families. What do you think? Don’t be shy, hop on the soapbox….

Related Posts:

Why early settlement is a win-win for all

Mediation of Lawsuits: The Top 5 Things that Tick Me Off!

 

 

 

Dealing with Cerebral Palsy: A Resource for Parents and Family (Part III)

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

In Part I of this series I provided a basic introduction to dealing with cerebral palsy.  I also provided Maryland parents with a comprehensive list of places that are able to assist parents.  In Part II I discussed educating children with cerebral palsy and provided a list of places to turn if you need help.  Today we will take a look at some of the medical treatments available for cerebral palsy.

Medical Treatment

Cerebral Palsy cannot be cured, but treatment can often improve a child’s capabilities. Progress due to medical research means that many patients can enjoy near-normal lives if their neurological problems are properly managed. There is no standard therapy that works for all patients; the physician must work with a team of other health care professionals to identify a child’s unique needs and impairments.  Typically, an individual treatment plan is created to addresses them.  As a general rule, the earlier diagnosis and treatment begins, the better chance a child has of overcoming developmental disabilities or learning new ways to accomplish difficult tasks.  The goal of treatment is to help the person be as independent as possible.

Treatment requires a team approach, including:

  • Primary care doctor
  • Dentist (dental check-ups are recommended around every 6 months)
  • Social worker
  • Nurses
  • Occupational, physical, and speech therapists
  • Other specialists, including a neurologist, rehabilitation physician, pulmonologist, and gastroenterologist

Treatment is based on the person’s symptoms and the need to prevent complications.  Self and home care include:

  • Getting enough food and nutrition
  • Keeping the home safe
  • Performing exercises recommended by the health care providers
  • Practicing proper bowel care (stool softeners, fluids, fiber, laxatives, regular bowel habits)
  • Protecting the joints from injury

Putting the child in regular schools is recommended, unless physical disabilities or mental development makes this impossible. Special education or schooling may help.

The following may help with communication and learning:

  • Glasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Muscle and bone braces
  • Walking aids
  • Wheelchairs

Physical therapy, occupational therapy, orthopedic help, or other treatments may also be needed to help with daily activities and care.

Medications may include:

  • Anticonvulsants to prevent or reduce the frequency of seizures
  • Botulinum toxin to help with spasticity and drooling
  • Muscle relaxants (baclofen) to reduce tremors and spasticity

Surgery may be needed in some cases to:

  • Control gastroesophageal reflux
  • Cut certain nerves from the spinal cord to help with pain and spasticity
  • Place feeding tubes
  • Release joint contractures

What is important, however, is that an individualized approach be taken for your child.

Query:  Does your child have cerebral palsy?  What medical treatments are you providing for your child?

 

 

Credits to http://www.nlm.nih.gov; www.nsnn.com

Don’t underestimate jurors. They really do get it – most of the time!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

I just finished a two week trial that was probably one of the most complex medical cases of my 37 year career. Since the “resolution” of the case is the subject of a confidentiality agreement, I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of the case or its “resolution.” Nevertheless, what I am free to tell you is that having tried hundreds of jury trials over my career, it amazes me just how often jurors “get it” when it comes to doing their very best to understand the evidence thrown at them and to do “the right thing.”

The case involved about 8,000 pages of medical records. Jurors heard from 8 medical witnesses ranging from surgery, to infectious disease, to radiology to pathology. This was not a case involving “Anatomy 101″; it was an advanced course in the biomechanics of the spine, neural element compression, biofilms on hardware, pulmonary hypertension, deep vein thrombosis – well, you get the picture.

After nine grueling, long days of evidence, sitting in hard, non-cushioned chairs and having to endure seemingly endless bench conferences dealing with evidentiary issues and objections that the jury was not allowed to follow, our panel patiently waited for over two hours on their final day of service while the parties to the lawsuit worked out “a resolution” of the case. The trial was to end the next day (today). They, the jurors, would finally get to speak to us, rather than having us speak to them for over two weeks.

Once the details of the “resolution” were hammered out, the judge had the courtroom clerk bring the jury into the courtroom to take their “luxurious” wooden seats. The Court announced that the parties had “resolved” the case and that the jurors’ service was now completed. Nine plus days and countless hours of sitting and listening – and now – no chance to deliberate and tell the parties who they – the jurors - thought was right in this legal battle. The judge then advised them that they had served a most important function because many times (this being one of them) the parties could not reach agreement – uh “resolution” – without them. It was further announced by the Court that if they cared to do so, they were now free to speak with the lawyers.

Rather than gather up their belongings and hustle out the door, each and every one of them remained in the courtroom to share their thoughts and observations of the trial. Once again, as has happened so many times in my career, I was pleasantly surprised  and amazed by what they had to say. Peppered with questions by the lawyers to see if they “got it,” our jurors shared their observations about key issues in the case. The told us about their “take” on the evidence involving T1 versus T2 weighted MRI’s. They accurately recounted the evidence regarding the issues of “sub-clinical infection.” They shared their individual thoughts and reflections on what role the decedent’s underlying, complicated co-morbidities played in their analysis of causation.

We’re not talking about a panel of medical experts here. We’re talking about everyday folks, who brought their common sense and varying levels of education and life-experiences to the litigation table. They “got it”!

None of the parties will ever know what the jury’s eventual verdict would have been. Nevertheless, because of the uncertainty of that verdict, the opposing sides in this lawsuit worked their way through a morass of emotion, righteousness, principles – you name it – to get the case “resolved.”

I hear so often from “professionals” that the jury system is broken. They rant endlessly that we need “professional” finders of fact to arrive at just results. Oh really! If that’s the case, then why is it that each side can have highly qualified experts, who can’t agree on the interpretation of medical evidence? Maybe – just maybe – it takes people of plain common sense, goodwill and a sense of justice to get it right.

Have jurors arrived at verdicts in my career that make you want to retire from the practice of law? They have – but on very rare occasions. When you put aside the self-righteousness of bias and advocacy and reflect on verdicts, many lawyers – I for one – appreciate that juries really do “get it” and really try to do “the right thing.”

To all the cynics out there, don’t be so unwilling to appreciate what these citizens do to advance our system of justice. Is the system perfect? Far from it, but not as far from it as many would have you believe.

Let me end by simply saying – THANKS to our citizens who made-up our jury. Your patience, attentiveness, endurance and willingness to serve is very much appreciated. You could easily have dreamed-up a way to avoid service on the jury during the selection (voir dire) process (as so many do in so many pathetic ways), but you didn’t do that. Kudos to each and every one of you. You did advance the cause of justice. You made the parties to this lawsuit take note of the fact that maybe, just maybe, their view of the case was about to be tested in the crucible of the jury room. That knowledge and the reality of an impending verdict made them step back, take a deep breath and come to a “resolution” of their dispute. Well done, Citizens! I for one applaud you.

How Do I Choose A Lawyer? A Helpful Guide

Monday, June 20th, 2011

One of the most important things you can do if you are considering a lawsuit is to spend time doing a proper search for the lawyer, who will be handling your case.

Just because a law firm or a lawyer has a fancy webpage or an eye-catching ad in your local phone directory or even a professional looking TV commercial does not mean that this lawyer has a clue what he/she is doing in the specialized areas of medical malpractice or catastrophic personal injury.

We invite you to read and consider the issues and questions raised in our White Paper – “How to Choose a Lawyer.”

If you have other ideas or questions that you believe would be helpful to our readers in their search for a lawyer, post your reply on this topic so others may benefit by your insights.

 

Image courtesy of www.quadtechint.com

 

Legal Boot Camp Class Four. Sean and Kristy’s Story: How a Jury Award is Conformed to the Cap.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

From the Editor. Please see our disclaimer at the end of this blog for a better understanding of the limitations of this series and our mission statement.

Last week, we published a blog about Sean and Kristy. You will recall that Sean died from excessive bleeding when the nurse overdosed him with anticoagulation medication after a major surgery. You will also recall that after careful consideration Kristy decided to file a medical malpractice claim against the nurse and her employer, the hospital.

Now, let’s skip forward.  Kristy’s Complaint stated two causes of action: survival and wrongful death. Under the survival claim, Kristy was the only named Plaintiff because she was named Personal Representative of Sean’s Estate. Only a personal representative can bring a survival action on behalf of a decedent. Kristy and Kira (Sean’ daughter) were both named Plaintiffs under the wrongful death count. Generally speaking, only a parent, spouse, or child (with some exceptions) can bring claims for wrongful death.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of 2.5 million with 1 million awarded in the survival action and 1.5 million awarded in the wrongful death action. Furthermore, in the wrongful death action, the jury awarded Kristy 1 million dollars and Kira 500,000 dollars.  All of these damages were for pain and suffering.  You will recall that Maryland has a cap on non-economic damages. The cap imposes a limitation of about 812,000 dollars when the jury’s award is for wrongful death and survival (this is regardless of the number of claims or claimants).

How will the Court reduce the verdict so that it conforms to the statutory cap? The answer is mandated by statute: the Court must make proportionate reductions in order to reduce the jury award to the statutory cap.  Here is how it works:  The total recovery in this case is 2.5 million (1 million under the survival action, 1.5 million under the wrongful death action). 1.5 million represents 60% of the total recovery of 2.5 million.  1 million represents 40% of the total recovery.

Now, 40% of the 812,000 cap is 320,800 dollars. 60% of the 812,000 cap is 487,200 dollars. Therefore, the monetary award under the survival action will be reduced by the Court to 324,800 dollars. The overall award under the wrongful death action will be reduced by the Court proportionately to 487,200 dollars.

Furthermore, proportionate reductions are necessary to conform the wrongful death award to the cap.  An overall amount of 1.5 million was awarded in the wrongful death action.  From that award, the jury gave Kira 500,000 dollars and Kristy 1 million dollars.  One million represents about 67% of the total recovery in the wrongful death action. Kira’s award of 500,000 dollars represent 33.3%. Applying these percentages to the capped wrongful death recovery of 487,200 dollars, Kira’s award will be reduced from 500,000 dollars to 160,776 (33% of 487,200) dollars. Kristy’s award of 1 million dollars will be reduced to 326,424 dollars (67% of 487,200). This is all Maryland law will permit them to recover. Justice or injustice, what do you think?

Related Posts:

Malpractice Wrongful Death Lawsuit by Couple Falsely Accused of Abusing Their Child Filed Against Children’s Hospital

Maryland’s Cap and a Message from the former MAJ President re the Goings-On in Annapolis

Legal Boot Camp (First Class): The Story of Pam – Maryland’s Law on Earning Capacity

“Wrongful Death and Survival Actions”

Disclaimer: As is the case with all of our blogs and the writings posted on our website, we are not offering legal advice to our readers. This information in our series,Legal Boot Camp, is being presented in the hope that we can provide some education about the law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. The law in the field of personal injury (and particularly in our sub-specialty of medical malpractice) can be complex and confusing at times. Even in these two jurisdictions where we are licensed to practice, the laws and their interpretation by the courts can vary significantly. It is simply our hope that by presenting this series – Legal Boot Camp - that we can provide a better understanding of some legal principles that can come into play when bringing a civil claim or lawsuit for damages as a result of the wrongdoing of others.

For those who do not live in either Maryland or the Washington, D.C., we hope that we can at least raise some issues for you to consider when you speak with an attorney licensed to practice in the state in which you live. Many times the basic concepts of law are similar. We hope that by raising some of these issues applicable to Maryland and the District of Columbia, you will at least have a basic understanding of some terms and principles that may apply to your situation. Don’t be afraid to raise these issues with your attorney. Education – be it in law or medicine – is our main goal.
Finally, please see our introductory blog for Legal Boot Camp for a better understanding of our mission in presenting this series.

 

Newest Word on Crib Safety: Ban the Bumpers?

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Which crib bedding would you choose? Aesthetic or safe?

In the newest topic regarding crib safety, Maryland is considering regulations to ban the sale of crib bumpers. For many years, more and more emphasis has been placed on infants sleeping in safe cribs without any additional “stuff” in them. This has included the elimination of lots of former nursery staples. Baby blankets, stuffed animals, pillows and other loose items have been banned from the crib by safety experts for years. As requirements for cribs have required slats that are closer together, the utility of using a bumper to help a child from getting stuck between crib slats has been eliminated. More recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has developed even newer crib safety standards, including eliminating the use of drop-sides, and warned against the use of sleep positioners. Yet, despite the advice to put babies to sleep only on their backs in cribs empty of everything except a well fitting mattress and fitted sheet, many parents and caregivers persist in using other items in cribs. Now, with an increasing number of deaths associated with crib bumpers, Maryland is considering a stronger stance.

Danger of Crib Bumpers

The concern about crib bumpers is that there have been infant deaths associated with suffocation or strangulation and the use of crib bumpers. Some of the deaths are directly attributable to the bumpers (for instance a child found with their head wrapped in the ties of the bumper or their face pressed into the side of the bumper), while others are only potentially related to the bumper use but not definitively so (for instance, children whose death are classified as SIDS, but where bumpers were in use in the crib at the time of death and may have been a contributing factor in the death). This makes the discussion of the dangers muddy – with manufacturers claiming that bumpers are safe and advocates warning against their use to protect against suffocation.

Potential Ban on Sale of Bumpers

When the Baltimore Sun reported on the potential regulations, they mentioned something that gave me pause. They explained that if Dr. Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, does decide to regulate this issue, the regulations will impact only the sale, not the use of the bumpers. While this makes sense from a policy perspective, the goal is not to punish parents who may not be aware of the safety risks, and from a enforceability perspective, the state cannot possibly enforce a regulation that requires knowledge of whether bumpers are being used in individual homes, the regulation of the sale of the item is going to have some drawbacks.

Will a State Ban Save Lives?

So here are my questions. Will regulations against the sale of these bumpers in Maryland make any difference in saving lives? In this day of internet shopping and wide availability of items through catalogues and easy interstate travel, are Maryland families going to forgo the crib bumper because they cannot be purchased in the local baby store, or are they still going to be buying the bumper with a set of nursery items on Amazon or through a national baby store? Will Internet or national companies without a store presence in Maryland be punished for selling a bumper to a person with a Maryland address? If so, then perhaps the word will get out that these items are dangerous and should not be used. If not, will parents even realize that the goal of the regulation is actually to curb the use of the bumpers. Either way, I guess that by decreasing the number of bumpers in Maryland homes, safety will be increased and perhaps over time, awareness will be increased and other states may follow suit.

Getting the Word Out

My other concern is that if there are parents who are still using bumpers, blankets or other items in their babies’ cribs, is the issue one of parent education? Perhaps the real emphasis needs to be on wider parental awareness of the safety issue. There are lots of great resources available to learn how to put infants to sleep safely:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNekf5P9_Yg&feature=youtu.be

Since the early 1990s, the emphasis has been on having infants sleep on their backs. This has lead to a dramatic decrease in SIDS deaths since that time. The “Back to Sleep” campaign began in 1994 and continues to this day.  However, when reading a 2005 paper from the AAP, I was surprised to read that SIDS deaths are more likely to occur when a baby who is used to sleeping on their back is placed to sleep on their stomach. This suggests that education needs to be of all potential caregivers since an occasional babysitter, grandparent or child care provider who is unfamiliar with the recommendations and the child’s normal sleep position may place the child to sleep on their stomach and cause real risk.

AAP has made many recommendations since 2005 including that children sleep in cribs with only a fitted sheet and without any additional soft bedding. These recommendations have varied somewhat over time on the use of bumpers and sleep positioners. However, the overall advice seems to remain the same – eliminate all soft bedding items. Despite these recommendations, there are still images in popular media of nurseries complete with cribs with soft bedding.

What changes are still needed?

What changes are needed to get the word out? Do you think that there needs to be a stronger effort to change the marketing images for infant products? Do you think that a ban on the sale of bumpers will have a significant impact on child safety? What about an education campaign focusing on caregivers, grandparents and day care providers?

Related Posts:

Over Two Million Cribs Recalled…What About Yours?

Infant Safety – drop-down crib hazard; CPSC issues recall

Generation 2 Worldwide and “ChildESIGNS” Drop Side Crib Brands Recalled; Three Infant Deaths Reported

Consumer Product Safety Commission vows to crack down on defective cribs – washingtonpost.com

 

Images from: sidscenter.org, potterybarnkids.com

Week in Review: (June 6 – June 10, 2011) Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

 

A Word of Special Thanks…

From the Editor:

I am so grateful to my bloggers and friends at the firm for all their hard work this week. I started a  multi-week trial this past Tuesday, but in my absence, the Eye Opener kept rolling right along thanks to them. Special thanks to Jason Penn, who took over the task of making sure the schedule was kept and the blogs got posted.

Brian Nash

 

From Jason Penn -

It is time to take a look back at the week that was.  With the temperatures soaring in the Baltimore-Washington area, the Eye Opener did its best to keep pace with the thermometer.  Five posts, five days.  All while the lawyers prepared for upcoming trials.  Not too shabby, if you ask me.  Without further ado, lets take a look at retrospective look:

The Death of a Baby – Economic Realities

By: Michael Sanders

The loss of a child, particularly an infant, is one of the most difficult and painful horrors anyone could every have to deal with.  Writing about it isn’t much easier.  Nonetheless, on Monday, blawger Michael Sanders’ post provided insight into the economics of lawsuits involving the death of an unborn child.  It is truly a “must read” for anyone that is contemplating taking legal action for the loss of their child.  The interplay between gestation, age of death and so-called “survival actions” is particularly tricky.  Mike lays out Maryland’s law on the topic and gives helpful primer for parent and practitioner alike.  Read more…

Can A Simple Image Guide Nutrition?

By: Sarah Keogh

Obesity in America, particularly among our youth is a serious problem.  The problem itself certainly isn’t new but the approaches to promote healthy eating certainly have been. On Tuesday, Sara Keough pulled up to the table and reviewed the new MyPlate image and its impact on America’s unhealthy eating habits.  As I am sure you know, there have been a variety of methods to improve our nation’s eating habits. In most recent memory is the ostracized food pyramid and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move Campaign” (and associated dance moves). Sara provided her perspective on the new eating tool as both an individual and a parent.  I personally am curious: for the parents out there, will this change the way you handle your children’s nutrition?  Read more …

Legal Boot Camp (Class Three): Sean and Kristy’s Story – Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

By: Jon Stefanuca

On Wednesday, Jon Stefanuca provided the third installment of our Legal Boot Camp. With class in session, Jon presented the following scenario:  Last month, Sean turned 24.  He and Kristy are married. Their daughter, Kira, is 2-years old. Sean just entered medical school. Kristy’s parents support them, while Sean is in school.  Sean has never held a job.  Kristy is a stay at home mom. A month ago, Sean was driving home when a drunk driver pushed him off the road. In the accident, Sean broke his sternum. He also sustained a number of vascular injuries, which caused internal bleeding. He was rushed to the nearest hospital. Soon after his arrival, Sean underwent surgery to stop the bleeding.

Sean was recovering beautifully. Unfortunately, on his third day in the hospital, he developed rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and his chest pain got worse. A CT scan of the chest revealed that Sean had a pulmonary embolism. The physician ordered 100 mg of anticoagulation medication.  The nurse misread the order and made a mistake in its administration. The overdose caused Sean to have extensive bleeding. Sean was scheduled for discharge within the next 3 days. Instead, he died within a few hours.

What legal action could Kristy take?  Read more…

Dealing with Cerebral Palsy: A Resource for Parents and Family (Part II)

By: Jason Penn

On Thursday, Jason Penn provided us with Part II of his series “Dealing with Cerebral Palsy:  A Resource for Parents and Family.”  Part II of the series takes a look at educating children with cerebral palsy.  Children that have special needs that impact his/her ability to learn at school often qualify for an Individual Education Plan.

An IEP is a legal document created to ensure your child’s teacher, staff and administration understands his learning and other limitations and utilizes the best practices to ensure that he gets the education that he/she deserves.  Curious about an IEP?  Read more…

How Much Is Your Marriage Worth?

By: Michael Sanders

To finish up the week, Michael Sanders returned, and asked the question: What is Your Marriage Worth?  If you’re married, there is category of damages that you may be able to recover – damage to your marriage. It’s called Loss of Consortium and is an important element of damages in the right circumstances. It is a legal recognition that the marital relationship itself – separate and apart from the injury to the individual – is a protected interest that is deserving of compensation if it has been harmed by the negligence of another person.  Read more…

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead:

With the weather taking a turn for the better (hopefully), and the local sports teams showing renewed vigor, we are going to keep up the pace. As you finish up this week, and turn to the next, you can look forward to the following:

  • Service dogs for children:  more than just a pet
  • Subdural Hemorrhages – “Man, is my head aching…”
  • HIV Patients:  Increased risk for developing cancer
  • Crib bumpers & safety
  • Legal Boot Camp is back in session and Part III of our Cerebral Palsy tutorial.

Have a safe weekend, Everyone!

How Much is Your Marriage Worth?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

When you’re injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it’s easy to see why you have a legal claim. You are entitled to recover for the injuries that you suffered, including economic damages (lost wages, medical bills, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). However, if you’re married, there is another category of damages that you may be able to recover – damage to your marriage. It’s called Loss of Consortium and is an important element of damages in the right circumstances. It is a legal recognition that the marital relationship itself – separate and apart from the injury to the individual – is a protected interest that is deserving of compensation if it has been harmed by the negligence of another person.

Loss of consortium has an interesting history. Under Common Law (which roughly translates to “the olden days” in this circumstance) a woman had no right to sue for loss of consortium. It was only the man who had the right. That was because the woman was essentially seen as the man’s property. If she was injured and unable to provide her usual domestic or bedroom duties as a result of someone else’s negligence, the man could recover for the loss of such services. He had basically lost some of the value of his property so he was entitled to compensation. Eventually, the courts (most courts, at least) recognized the unfairness of such a one-sided system and ruled that women could also make such a claim if their husband suffered an injury. However, there are still some states (Virginia, for example) that do not recognize loss of consortium at all, no matter who tries to bring it.

Back to the present day. A loss of consortium claim arises when one spouse suffers a serious injury that impairs the marital relationship. An easy example is if a husband suffers a traumatic brain injury as a result of a doctor’s negligence. In that circumstance, the man would be able to file a claim for his own damages, of course, but he and his wife could also allege loss of consortium because the brain injury impacts the marriage. The couple will now find it more difficult to do the things they use to do together as man and wife – going out together, caring for their children, taking vacations, intimacy, and the day-to-day marital difficulties that arise because the husband now has a brain injury. In Maryland, a jury can award monetary damages for the couples’ loss of companionship, affection, assistance and yes, sexual relations. It is notoriously difficult to put a dollar figure on such injuries, but the law recognizes the right of a husband and wife to recover financially if their marriage has been damaged. How much money to award for such injury is for the jury to decide. Like other damages, it is always the plaintiffs’ burden to prove that the marriage has been injured, which is usually done through the testimony of the husband and wife.

Speaking of intimacy, some pundits say that loss of consortium is just a code-word for damage to the couples’ sex life. This is not entirely true as the marital relationship entails far more than just sex, but these pundits have a point. A loss of consortium claim usually does include an allegation that the couples’ sex life has been impacted. If you are bringing a lawsuit, you have to understand that when you allege loss of consortium, you are opening up the door on the most intimate parts of your life. Defense attorneys will often ask highly personal questions – how often did you have sex before the injury, how often do you have sex now, how exactly does the injury make sex more difficult, have either of you ever strayed from the marriage, etc. Some couples are understandably reluctant to discuss such things. Thankfully, most defense attorneys are just as uncomfortable asking these questions as the plaintiffs are answering them, so the questions tend to be over with relatively quickly. Be aware, though, that if you do file a loss of consortium claim, your sex life may become an issue in open court.

In the District of Columbia, a loss of consortium claim is for similar damages, but with a slight difference. While in Maryland the claim belongs to both the husband and the wife and is brought by them jointly, in the District of Columbia the claim belongs solely to the non-injured spouse. Any money awarded by the jury for loss of consortium goes to the non-injured spouse rather than to the couple jointly.

Lastly, Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages applies to claims for loss of consortium. There is no separate cap for this claim. In other words, there is a single cap that applies to all allegations of injuries, whether it’s an injury to the individual or an injury to the marriage.  The Maryland Legislature does not allow a couple to receive more money for injury to the marriage above and beyond the cap, even if a jury decides that that money should be given. Just another example of how Maryland’s cap punishes plaintiffs.

Have you ever suffered an injury that impacted your marriage? Did you file a loss of consortium claim? What was the result?

Related Nash and Associates Links

Maryland’s alleged healthcare “crisis”

Insurance and Traumatic Brain Injury

Acquired Brain Injuries

 

 

Legal Boot Camp (Class Three): Sean and Kristy’s Story – Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

From the Editor – Please see ourdisclaimer at the end of this blog for a better understanding of the limitations of this series and our mission statement.

Last month, Sean turned 24.  He and Kristy are married. Their daughter, Kira, is 2-years old.  Sean just entered medical school. Kristy’s parents support them, while Sean is in school.  Sean has never held a job.  Kristy is a stay at home mom. A month ago, Sean was driving home when a drunk driver pushed him off the road. In the accident, Sean broke his sternum. He also sustained a number of vascular injuries, which caused internal bleeding. He was rushed to the nearest hospital. Soon after his arrival, Sean underwent surgery to stop the bleeding.

Sean was recovering beautifully. Unfortunately, on his third day in the hospital, he developed rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and his chest pain got worse. A CT scan of the chest revealed that Sean had a pulmonary embolism. He was immediately ordered anticoagulation medication. The physician ordered 100 mg of anticoagulation medication to be split into two doses a day. The nurse misread the order and mistakenly administered 1000mg all at once. The overdose caused Sean to have extensive bleeding. Sean was scheduled for discharge within the next 3 days. Instead, he died within a few hours.

Now, think about this: Sean died prematurely at the young age of 24. Kira, lost her father. Kristy lost her husband. She now has a child to support all by herself. She has no income of her own, and she can’t rely on her parents indefinitely. After careful consideration, Kristy decided to sue the nurse (and her employer, the hospital) who overdosed her husband.

In Maryland, what will she be able to recover against the nurse in a medical malpractice suit if the jury finds the nurse (and/or her employer the hospital) negligent?

Recovery in a Maryland Survival Action

The answer to that question depends on the type of action brought against the nurse and/or hospital . Kristy, as the Personal Representative of Sean’s Estate, can sue the nurse  (i.e. a survival action). In a survival action, Kristy is essentially bringing a claim on behalf of her deceased husband for damages that he would have been entitled to claim against the nurse had he lived (i.e. had he survived – thus the name “survival action”).  In such an action, the monetary award would go to Sean’s Estate, and it would be distributed according to his will or, if he died without a will, according to Maryland’s Intestate Statute. In a survival action, Kristy can recover the medical expenses incurred by Sean as a result of the nurse’s negligence. This amount would be insignificant because Sean died within a couple of hours from the time the medication was administered.

Kristy may also recover any of Sean’s lost earnings from the time of his injury to the time of his death. Well, there are no such damages here because Sean was unemployed. Kristy could recover Sean’s funeral expenses up to five thousand dollars. She could also recover non-economic damages associated with Sean’s pain and suffering from the time of his injury to the time of his death.  In Maryland, however, these damages are limited in Maryland to about  $650,000.  Therefore, the most Kristy could recover in a survival action would be limited to about $655,000.

Recovery in a Wrongful Death Action

Kristy could also bring an action for wrongful death. In this action, Kristy could recover economic damages that she personally sustained as a result of Sean’s death. She is also entitled to recover economic damages equal to the financial support that she would have had from Sean had he lived.  In this case, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make such a determination. Sean was unemployed at the time of his death. He had no employment history.  Sean was not supporting his family financially. Kristy’s parents supported both of them.

So, how does one calculate the financial support that Kristy’s could reasonably have expected to receive from Sean in the future had he lived? One could argue, pursuant to a number of Maryland cases, that Kristy is not entitled to recover any of Sean’s future lost wages because he never worked and because he never supported Kristy financially.

Theoretically, Kristy could make a claim for loss of household services (cooking, cleaning, babysitting, etc.). In this case, however, Sean was a busy medical student, and Kristy was in charge of the household.  Therefore, it is unlikely that she would recover any such damages.

Wrongful Death – Solatium (non-economic damages)

Since her case would be in Maryland, Kristy could claim damages for her mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, loss of companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, attention, advice and counsel associated with Sean’s death. Here again, these damages are limited to about $650,000 notwithstanding the severity of Kristy’s pain and suffering.

Total Recovery in a Survival and a Wrongful Death Action

If Kristy were to bring a survival action and a wrongful death action in Maryland, her damages for pain and suffering under both actions would be overall capped somewhere between $812,000 and $868,000 (the “cap” on such damages is determined by the year the “cause of action accrues). It is possible that this is all she would be able to reocover against the nurse if she brought claims for wrongful death and survival.

Sean’s daughter, Kira, has a wrongful death claim against the nurse as well.  She would be entitled to recover the value of the support, which Sean would have provided to her had he survived.  Again, because Sean never actually supported Kira financially and because he never worked, that may be something very difficult to prove.  Kira, just like her mother, will be able to claim damages for her pain and suffering resulting from her father’s death. However this recovery would also  be limited to about $650,000. This cap is imposed on both Kira and Kristy’s recovery. That is, if a jury were to award Kristy $650,000 for pain and suffering and another  amount  of $650,000  to Kristy for pain and suffering, both Kira and Kristy would recover an overall amount of $650,000 (not $1,300,000).

Keep in mind, these “possible recoveries” are reduced by the costs and fees associated with litigation.

Justice or Injustice?

Now, think about this for a second… Sean’s normal life expectancy was going to be approximately another 50 years. All things being equal, he would have had a normal working life expectancy. Kristy’s life expectancy is about the same. Kira has another 16 years before she reaches the age of 18. The average cost of living in Maryland is about $3400/month, and in some places it is a lot more. Generally speaking,  college tuitions can be anywhere between $8,000/year and 35,000/year. The average cost for family health insurance is about $13,300/year.

So, you do the math: How long is Kristy’s recovery going to last?  How are Kristy and Kira’s lives going to be affected by the Sean’s death? Is Kristy’s recovery sufficient compensation for her loss?  The principle of compensatory damages is to put a litigant in the same position that she/he would have been in had the loss not occurred. I, for one, think that this is hardly achieved in this case.

If in a survival action the Estate can bring an action that Sean himself could have brought had he survived, why should his Estate not recover all of his lost future income as a doctor? After all, Sean was expected to earn income as a physician for many years. Why should Kristy be precluded from recovering some of Sean’s future lost wages under the wrongful death action simply because Sean was not employed or contributing financially to his family at the time of his death? Surely, it is reasonable to assume that Sean would have contributed some or most of his income to his family. Finally, why should the State dictate what the value of Sean and Kristy’s pain and suffering is? Shouldn’t this be decided by a jury of their peers? What are your thoughts?

Related Posts:

Malpractice Wrongful Death Lawsuit by Couple Falsely Accused of Abusing Their Child Filed Against Children’s Hospital

Maryland’s Cap and a Message from the former MAJ President re the Goings-On in Annapolis

Legal Boot Camp (First Class): The Story of Pam – Maryland’s Law on Earning Capacity

“Wrongful Death and Survival Actions”

Disclaimer: As is the case with all of our blogs and the writings posted on our website, we are not offering legal advice to our readers. This information in our series,Legal Boot Camp, is being presented in the hope that we can provide some education about the law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. The law in the field of personal injury (and particularly in our sub-specialty of medical malpractice) can be complex and confusing at times. Even in these two jurisdictions where we are licensed to practice, the laws and their interpretation by the courts can vary significantly. It is simply our hope that by presenting this series – Legal Boot Camp - that we can provide a better understanding of some legal principles that can come into play when bringing a civil claim or lawsuit for damages as a result of the wrongdoing of others.
For those who do not live in either Maryland or the Washington, D.C., we hope that we can at least raise some issues for you to consider when you speak with an attorney licensed to practice in the state in which you live. Many times the basic concepts of law are similar. We hope that by raising some of these issues applicable to Maryland and the District of Columbia, you will at least have a basic understanding of some terms and principles that may apply to your situation. Don’t be afraid to raise these issues with your attorney. Education – be it in law or medicine – is our main goal.
Finally, please see our introductory blog for Legal Boot Camp for a better understanding of our mission in presenting this series.