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Life Saving Heroics Do Not Excuse Later Medical Negligence

Univ. of Maryland Medical Sys. Corp. v. Gholston
No. 2505 (Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, Feb. 10, 2012)

by Colleen K. O’Brien, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

This case concerned a medical malpractice action filed on behalf of Darryl Gholston, Jr. (“Darryl”), a minor, by his mother, for injuries Darryl sustained during his premature birth at the University of Maryland Medical System (“UMMS”). After a jury trial, a verdict was returned in favor of Darryl for $3.6 million dollars. UMMS moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”) and for a new trial. The motions were denied and this appeal followed.

Darryl was born prematurely at UMMS on September 19, 2002, at approximately 26 weeks old. Three weeks prior to his birth, Darryl’s mother had presented at a UMMS clinic for prenatal care, where she was found to be at risk for premature labor. She was admitted to UMMS and put on bed rest with the goal of extending her pregnancy as long as possible to increase the likelihood of survival of her fetus. Three weeks later, on September 19, 2002, at 11:42 p.m., Darryl was delivered by a ceasarian section (“c-section”). The medical malpractice claim involved the treatment rendered to Darryl and his mother on the day of his birth.

Early on the morning of Darryl’s birth, a sonogram revealed that Darryl’s mother was at risk for an umbilical cord prolapse, which if it occurred, could cause severe oxygen deprivation to the fetus. During trial, Plaintiff argued that later that evening, when his mother exhibited symptoms of an acute cord prolapse, that the standard of care demanded that he be delivered within ten minutes, by immediate c-section. Had the immediate c-section occurred, he would not have suffered the injuries that he did. Plaintiff’s medical experts supported this theory, and testified that Darryl’s injuries were the result of the cord prolapse and the breaches in the standard of care by UMMS’ physicians by failing to immediately deliver him. By contrast, UMMS’ experts attempted to attribute Darryl’s injuries to his prematurity and low birth weight. To the appellate court, this was a classic battle of the experts. Based on the trial evidence presented by Plaintiff, there was sufficient evidence presented by the Plaintiff’s experts to get to the jury.

The Court also rejected UMMS’ proximate cause argument. UMMS asserted that for policy reasons, a reasonable factfinder should not have been permitted to find that Darryl’s injuries were caused by the breach of the standard of care by its agents because they had saved his life by rendering care that extended his mother’s pregnancy from 23 weeks to 26 weeks. The Court rejected UMMS’ argument that healthcare providers should be protected from liability when their efforts were at some point life-saving. To the Court, even if life-saving treatment occurred at one time, if the healthcare provider commits a breach in the standard of care that is the cause-in-fact of an injury to the patient, the healthcare provider will be liable in damages for negligence for that later breach.

Overall, there was sufficient evidence presented by the Plaintiff to show that the breaches of the standard of care by UMMS caused the injuries that Darryl sustained. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s judgment.