Goodell DeVries Appellate Practice Overturns Record-Setting $205M Birth-Injury Judgment


Derek M. Stikeleather

Maryland's doctors and hospitals felt shock waves, in July 2019, when a Baltimore City jury awarded over $229 million to a single birth-injury plaintiff. The trial court entered a $205 million final judgment (after subtracting more than $24 million of capped non-economic damages). The trial judge's post-trial decision not to reduce the $200 million future-damages award to reflect the evidence raised alarm about the sustainability and insurability of the practice of high-risk obstetrics in Maryland and beyond.

Goodell DeVries partner Derek M. Stikeleather presented oral argument to the Court of Special Appeals, via Webex, on May 1, 2020, the first day that the appellate court used WebEx for arguments.

On February 1, 2021, the three-judge panel unanimously held that the undisputed record showed that the doctors had obtained informed consent and plaintiffs had not shown that any purportedly negligent treatment had caused any harm. See Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center v. Byrom opinion, No. 19-1585 (Feb. 1, 2021). It held that the trial court erred as a matter of law when denying the hospital's post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on all claims. Upholding Maryland law on informed consent, the Court emphasized that a "fully informed patient has the right to make a decision about her own healthcare," even if it is not the treatment that the doctors would have chosen.

Mr. Stikeleather led the appellate effort, along with Goodell DeVries's Marianne DePaulo Plant and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP's Martin S. Himeles, Jr. This is the second time since 2013 that Mr. Stikeleather has led a Goodell DeVries appellate team in vacating what was then the highest birth-injury award in Maryland history. (See Martinez, $55 million verdict).

Before it was vacated on appeal, the $205 million judgment here was believed to be the largest individual medical malpractice award in the history of any U.S. jurisdiction.

Mr. Stikeleather is a partner in Goodell DeVries's Appellate Practice Group. Ms. Plant is Chair of the firm's Medical Malpractice Practice Group.

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