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To File or Not to File in the Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office

June 15, 2018 By Emily F. Belanger

The recent Court of Appeals opinion in Davis v. Frostburg Facility Operations, LLC d/b/a Frostburg Village addressed the issue of whether claims for negligence and related claims have alleged a “medical injury” within the meaning of the Health Care Malpractice Claims Act (the “Act”) such that the claims would be subject to initial filing in the Maryland Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office (“ADR Office”) prior to filing in a Circuit Court.

In Davis, Plaintiff alleged that she was injured while staying at one of the Defendant’s facilities in two separate incidents, both of which occurred on October 26, 2011.  First, Plaintiff alleged that, while she slept, she fell from her bed as a result of the Defendant’s failure to properly secure her mattress to the bed frame.  Plaintiff alleged that she was on the floor following the fall for 45 minutes before a nurse arrived to help her.  When the nurse did arrive, the nurse used a mechanical lift to lift the Plaintiff off the floor.  However, while the Plaintiff was suspended in the lift, the lift released and dropped the Plaintiff again, on the floor.

Plaintiff filed suit on October 23, 2014 in the Circuit Court for Allegheny County.  The Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing that Plaintiff failed to first file her claims with the ADR Office.  The trial judge granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  Plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the entire complaint.

On appeal, Plaintiff alleged that she was injured as a result of the Defendant’s negligence when she fell from her bed and when she was dropped while the nurse  attempted to return her to the bed.  The Defendant argued that each of the injuries alleged by Plaintiff stemmed from a breach of a professional duty of care.  The Court of Appeals examined each of the Plaintiff’s three claims of negligence.

Count One centered around when Plaintiff fell out of her bed.  Plaintiff did not allege that she was receiving any medical services when the mattress on her bed detached and caused her to fall. Accordingly, the Court found that a non-medical negligence count was present and that Count One did not fall within the Act.

In Count Two, Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant negligently and recklessly provided “a mechanical lift that malfunctioned and released” “causing [her] to be dropped from the height of the bed back to the floor.”  The Court concluded that an examination of medical procedures regarding the proper
operation of the lift and whether the nurse properly followed said  procedures would be necessary to decide the veracity of the claim and that the claim should have been filed in the ADR Office.

Count Three sounded in respondeat superior liability on behalf of the Defendant organization by way of its nurse employee.  The Court reasoned that much like Count Two, because proof of the nurse employee’s negligence in operating the mechanical lift involved examination of medical procedures and whether they were followed, the claim should have been filed in the ADR Office.