Judgment against UM medical system voided

Family of dead child may pursue an appeal

November 02, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for University of Maryland Medical System Corp. say they are glad a judgment against the medical network has been overturned, but attorneys for the family of a dead toddler said yesterday that they hope to challenge the Court of Special Appeals' ruling to the state's top court.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals ruled Wednesday that the jury was improperly instructed on the law during a two-week trial last year in Baltimore, and it ordered the case returned to Baltimore for retrial. It also upheld the state's cap on non-economic damages, which reduced the $3.5 million jury award to the mother of 2-year-old Jamal Malory to $515,000, and erased a $200,000 award to the boy's grandmother as the representative of the child's estate.

"We are quite pleased with the ruling. We thought that the evidence did not support the jury verdict," said Mairi Pat Maguire, one of two attorneys for the University of Maryland Medical System.

The 36-page decision was a blow to the Malory family and its lawyers, said Henry E. Dugan Jr., one of four attorneys for the family.

"When they are reversed with a cap, [the result] is doubly damaging," Dugan said, noting the expense of a second trial and the limit on non-economic damages.

The court rejected the family's contention that the statutory cap on non-economic damages -- pain, suffering and the like -- is unconstitutional because it hits women and minorities especially hard because they are less likely to have big income losses for which they can seek damages.

That limits their overall ability to recover damages, Dugan said.

Dugan said he expects to ask the Court of Appeals to hear a challenge to the intermediate appellate court's ruling.

Jamal, who had a history of respiratory illness, died March 16, 1996.

His mother and grandmother, of West Baltimore, claimed that the hospital was negligent because it did not admit Jamal after he was taken by ambulance from a doctor's office to the emergency room for treatment of respiratory trouble.

He was treated and sent home. The next morning, his mother, Markieta, could not wake him, and he was returned to the hospital.

The family's medical experts said Jamal probably died because mucus clogged his lungs, leading to heart arrhythmia.

The hospital's lawyers argued at trial that Jamal died because he had ingested something toxic at home after leaving emergency care. But the Court of Special Appeals said the trial judge was correct to bar testimony from a paramedic who tried to revive Jamal and said she smelled a chemical odor on the boy's breath.

The medical examiner said Jamal died of cardiac arrhythmia.

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