Court of Special Appeals Overturns Largest Malpractice Verdict in History

Lots of money

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals last month overturned a medical malpractice jury verdict in excess of $205 million against Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The award was twice as big as the next largest medical liability verdict in U.S. history and stands as stark evidence of the social inflation phenomenon driving the medical professional liability insurance industry’s litigation costs and loss ratios as well as how much physicians pay for coverage.

The underlying case, Byrom v. Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, involved a pregnant 16-year-old who presented 25-weeks pregnant with severe and worsening preeclampsia. The plaintiff alleged that the hospital failed to properly assess the viability of her fetus and failed to properly assess her condition, resulting in a plan of care based on inaccurate information that caused the baby to suffer a catastrophic brain injury. The plaintiff further alleged that because the inaccurate information regarding her fetus’s viability influenced her to decline delivery via cesarean section, Bayview Medical Center failed to obtain valid informed consent regarding her medical care.

The trial jury agreed with the plaintiff, awarding her and her daughter $229.6 million in damages, which included $3.62 million for past medical expenses, $200 million for future medical expenses, $1.02 million for lost earnings and $25 million in noneconomic damages. The award was later reduced to $205.38 million in order to comply with the state’s cap on noneconomic damages.

Following the verdict, Bayview Medical Center made a post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on all claims, arguing that no reasonable jury could have reached a guilty verdict based upon the evidence presented. The trial court judge denied the motion.

“We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling and will be appealing,” said Liz Vandendriessche, a spokeswoman at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in an emailed statement to the Baltimore Business Journal following the denial of the hospital’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. “Cases like these are tragic, and our hearts go out to this child and the people who are caring for her. However … we are confident in the care this patient received. In addition, the jury’s award in this case far exceeds what even the plaintiff was seeking.”

In its petition to the Court of Special Appeals, Bayview Medical Center again asked for the verdict to be set aside because the plaintiff did not offer sufficient evidence to support a finding of failure to provide informed consent or medical negligence.

The court agreed with Bayview Medical Center, writing in its opinion that “there is no evidence in the record that Bayview withheld any material information from Ms. Byrom that violated her right to informed consent, nor is there any evidence that Bayview was negligent in providing treatment. We hold, therefore, that the trial court erred in denying Bayview’s motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict …

“A fully informed patient has the right to make the decisions about her own healthcare. A necessary corollary of that right, however, is that absent negligence by the healthcare professional, the patient is responsible for the consequences of the choices she makes. In this case, Appellee Erica Byrom, fully informed of the choices and the risks attendant to each of those choices, chose an induced vaginal delivery over a cesarean section. Precisely as her doctors predicted, the consequences of that choice were disastrous. The jury, obviously and understandably sympathetic to Ms. Byrom, found in her favor. For the reasons that follow, however, we hold that the trial court erred by not setting aside that verdict.”

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