Court of Appeals Reduces Deference Owed to Plaintiff’s Choice of Forum
August 5, 2020
In University of Maryland Medical System Corp., et al. v. Kerrigan, et al., the Plaintiffs, B.K. and his parents, Kimberly and Michael Kerrigan (“Plaintiffs”), residents of Talbot County, filed a medical malpractice claim against seven defendants: three medical corporations and four individual doctors. The malpractice claim was based on the defendants’ alleged treatment of B.K.’s condition.
The Plaintiffs alleged that B.K., age fifteen, visited his primary care doctor with complaints of shortness of breath and dry coughing. After a chest x-ray, B.K. was diagnosed with atypical pneumonia and was prescribed five days of antibiotics. B.K.’s symptoms did not improve, and he was eventually admitted to the emergency room with signs of heart failure. B.K. was transferred from Talbot County by helicopter, to The University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore. Approximately four months after admission he received a heart transplant.
The Plaintiffs filed suit in Baltimore City, and all seven defendants moved jointly to transfer venue to Talbot County for forum non conveniens, which was granted by the Circuit Court. The Baltimore City Circuit Court found that the Plaintiffs and four of the seven named defendants all resided in Talbot County, that the relatively lighter dockets in Talbot County would ensure a faster trial, and that the jury pool would be more burdened in Baltimore City than in Talbot County. In a 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals held that the deference that judges generally owe to plaintiffs declines when their chosen forum is far and the parties’ convenience and interests of justice weigh strongly in favor of transfer. The Court explained that the factors which the Circuit Court judge utilized in making his decision were proper in gauging the public interest. However, the Court stressed that these factors are by no means intended to be an exhaustive list.