Economic Damages: Williams v. Dimensions

Kopec Law Firm

Economic damages in medical malpractice cases are the damages that reimburse the plaintiff for financial costs caused by the malpractice. Examples are medical bills and lost wages. The Appellate Court of Maryland issued an unreported opinion on August 28, 2023. The case was Williams v. Dimensions Health Corp. and the issue was economic damages. The focus was on a life care plan. That is a projection of future costs that an injured person will require. I will discuss the case and then provide some commentary for Maryland medical malpractice lawyers.

Facts

The plaintiff had been in a single-car accident. As a result, he hit the guard rail and flipped several times. The defendant doctor did a fasciotomy to address compartment syndrome in the plaintiff’s right leg. The plaintiff alleged that the doctor negligently performed the procedure, resulting in an above-the-knee amputation of the leg. (Op. at 3). 

The plaintiff had other severe, permanent injuries from the car accident that were unrelated to the medical malpractice. They included an above-the-knee amputation of the left leg and severe and permanent damage to the left arm. (Id.).

The parties disputed over whether the life care plan was addressing needs from the other car accident injuries. They also disagreed on the allocation of the burden of proof.

Plaintiff’s Witnesses

At trial, the plaintiff called five expert witnesses concerning the extent of his injuries and damages. They included an expert in prosthetics and orthotics. An orthopedic expert also testified. If the plaintiff had been treated timely, he probably would have had a leg he could walk on. However, he would have had trouble with recreational activities. (Id. at 5-6).

A physical medicine and rehabilitation expert also testified to the plaintiff’s current and future needs. A life care planner took the testimony of the other experts and created a care plan. (Id. at 6). She calculated the total care the plaintiff would need. She assumed he retained his right leg and subtracted that amount from the total cost of care he now requires. (Id. at 7). Additionally, an economist testified that the present value of life care was $6.3-$6.5 million. (Id. at 9).

Defense Witnesses

The defense called four experts. An orthopedic surgeon testified that the right leg would have had nerve damage and constant pain. It would not have been very functional. An expert in prosthetics observed that the plaintiff’s chronic pain keeps him in bed 4-5 times per week. He added that every attempt to use a prosthetic had been unsuccessful so far. As a result, the expert concluded that the plaintiff was not a candidate for prosthetics. (Id. at 10).

The defense life care planner observed that the plaintiff had a nonfunctional left arm from the accident and that the subsequent medical treatment did not cause it. The plaintiff also would have had chronic back and body pain even if he kept his right leg. As a result, the defense expert concluded that the amount of care the plaintiff now needed was no different than the care he would have needed if he kept his leg. (Id. at 10-11).

Court Decision

The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded over $6.2 million, all of which was economic damages except for $300,000 in non-economic damages.

The parties disputed whether the plaintiff’s injuries were divisible and, if so, who had the burden of showing apportionment of damages.

The Court noted that none of the parties had asked the trial court to determine if the injuries were divisible as a matter of law. The time to do so was at the admission of expert testimony or consideration of jury instructions. (Id. at 43). As a result, the Court did not address divisibility. Instead, it examined the plaintiff’s evidence to see if it was sufficient to support the jury’s award and concluded that it was. (Id. at 49).

Commentary for Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyers

The plaintiff and the defendant had facts to support their arguments on the plaintiff’s future needs. Even before the additional amputation attributed to the malpractice, the plaintiff had one leg amputation, a severe arm injury, and significant chronic pain. On the other hand, the plaintiff had an expert opinion that the amputation of the plaintiff’s only remaining leg caused him much greater needs than he would have had.

The Williams Court noted that each side had failed to ask the trial court for a ruling as a matter of law in its favor on the issue of divisibility. This observation surely is significant guidance for future cases. But would it have made a difference in this case? 

Based on the expert testimony discussed it would have been unlikely that the Court would have ruled on this issue as a matter of law. The trial court likely would have found that admissible expert testimony was disputed on the issue and would have let the jury decide the question. Therefore, the result would have been the same.

However, Williams is prompting lawyers on both sides to raise the issue of divisibility as a matter of law where appropriate and to address the accompanying burdens in jury instructions.

Mark Kopec is a top-rated Maryland medical malpractice lawyer. For a free consultation and to speak directly with Attorney Kopec, contact us 800-604-0704. Thank you for reading the Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog.

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