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Gallagher v. Mercy Medical Center, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Maryland

April 29, 2019

MICHELE GALLAGHER
v.
MERCY MEDICAL CENTER, INC.

          Argued: January 8, 2019

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-16-002363

          Barbera, C.J. Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Wilner, Alan M. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          Greene, J.

         When multiple tortfeasors contribute to a plaintiff's injuries, the plaintiff may choose how to structure his or her litigation against one or all tortfeasors in pursuit of compensation for those injuries. The law, however, will permit the plaintiff to obtain only one full satisfaction of his or her injuries. Such satisfaction will preclude the plaintiff from pursuing other tortfeasors for compensation for the same injuries.

         Petitioner Michele Gallagher ("Ms. Gallagher" or "Petitioner") was injured in an automobile accident. She filed a lawsuit and ultimately obtained a settlement from the negligent driver and owner of the other vehicle, and a settlement from State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"), her uninsured/underinsured motorists carrier. The matter before this Court concerns Ms. Gallagher's next bite at the apple, as she now seeks to recover for her injuries from another alleged tortfeasor, Respondent Mercy Medical Center ("Respondent" or "Mercy"). Through her previous litigation, however, Petitioner obtained a settlement from State Farm for the same injuries that she now seeks from Mercy. Therefore, under the circumstances of this case, Petitioner has received full compensation for her injuries. Accordingly, we shall hold that Petitioner's action against Respondent is barred by the one satisfaction rule.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On January 15, 2009, Ms. Gallagher was injured when her automobile was struck from behind by an automobile driven by Phuong Nguyen ("Mr. Nguyen"). Ms. Gallagher underwent two reconstructive breast surgeries, which were performed at Mercy Medical Center on April 28, 2011 and October 18, 2012. Following the surgical procedures, Ms. Gallagher developed an infection identified as cellulitis.[1] She was admitted to Mercy to treat the infection with intravenous antibiotics on November 9, 2012. Attempts to administer the antibiotics failed, so on November 12, 2012, she received the antibiotics through a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter ("PICC line"). While the PICC line was being inserted into Ms. Gallagher's left arm, it accessed or punctured her brachial artery. Ms. Gallagher underwent vascular surgery to repair her brachial artery. On November 16, 2012, Ms. Gallagher was discharged from Mercy. Thereafter, she received out-patient treatment at Mercy for pain and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy[2] in her left arm.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Automobile Accident Action

         On December 16, 2011, Ms. Gallagher filed a Complaint ("Automobile Accident Complaint") in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, naming Mr. Nguyen, Jenny Le Phan ("Ms. Phan"), and State Farm as defendants. In Count One, Ms. Gallagher alleged negligence against Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Phan, the owner of the vehicle Mr. Nguyen was driving.[3] Ms. Gallagher sought $2 million for her injuries, which she alleged included emotional pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, and the inability to engage in her usual employments, activities, and pursuits.

         In Count Two of the Automobile Accident Complaint, Ms. Gallagher alleged a breach of contract by State Farm, her uninsured/underinsured motorists carrier. Ms. Gallagher alleged that, under the terms of her policy, "State Farm agreed to compensate M[s.] Gallagher for her bodily injuries and losses sustained due to the negligence of an underinsured motorist up to the prescribed limits." Ms. Gallagher averred that the alleged tortfeasors were underinsured motorists[4] and, therefore, State Farm stood in breach of contract when it refused Ms. Gallagher's demand for insurance proceeds. Ms. Gallagher claimed that she was "damaged as described in Count [One] of th[e] Complaint[, ]" and she sought $1 million in damages from State Farm.

         On April 17, 2012, Ms. Gallagher settled her negligence claim against Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Phan. As part of the settlement agreement, Ms. Gallagher accepted $25, 000.00, which represented the full policy limit of Mr. Nguyen's liability insurance coverage with Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company. In exchange, Ms. Gallagher signed a Release of All Claims ("Release"). Therein, Ms. Gallagher released her claims against Mr. Nguyen, Ms. Phan, and Nationwide, but expressly reserved her claim against State Farm. The Release made no mention of Mercy. On May 15, 2012, Ms. Gallagher filed a "Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice," dismissing her claims against Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Phan.

         Ms. Gallagher pursued her breach of contract claim against State Farm, and the parties proceeded to discovery.[5] In her initial responses to State Farm's interrogatories, sent on May 16, 2012, Petitioner claimed that she sought to recover from State Farm for her first breast surgery, pain and suffering, and related bills. Subsequently, in letters dated February 18 and May 22, 2014, Ms. Gallagher supplemented her discovery responses. She included bills related to her second breast surgery, cellulitis treatment, PICC line procedure, vascular surgery, and other treatment following the PICC line procedure.

         On March 6, 2015, Ms. Gallagher sent State Farm a letter supplementing her answers to State Farm's interrogatories. Therein, Ms. Gallagher explained that she endured two surgeries and developed cellulitis, then, in the course of treating the cellulitis, insertion of a PICC line accessed or punctured her brachial artery, necessitating additional surgery and causing "severe and permanent impairment to her left [arm]" - all of which was "causally relate[d] [] to the original accident of January, 2009." Additionally, two of the physicians who treated Ms. Gallagher at Mercy, Drs. David Maine, Jr., M.D. and Bernard W. Chang, M.D., were deposed. Upon questioning by Ms. Gallagher's counsel, the doctors affirmed that the breast surgeries, cellulitis, and PICC line procedure and injuries sustained therefrom were causally connected to the 2009 motor vehicle accident. Both doctors' statements were slated for use by Ms. Gallagher at her trial. In a letter dated April 28, 2015, Ms. Gallagher provided State Farm with a list of exhibits that she intended to introduce at trial. The list included her medical bills resulting from the PICC line procedure.

         On July 29, 2015, State Farm filed a motion to strike discovery materials that Ms. Gallagher produced belatedly. Rather than asking the trial court to exclude a specific document from evidence at trial, State Farm sought to end Ms. Gallagher's practice of supplementing her discovery responses with reports and bills that were several years old. The trial court found that Ms. Gallagher had been producing documents "years after the fact," and that her conduct was "highly prejudicial to [State Farm] and to the [c]ourt and [wa]s, therefore, inexcusable." Accordingly, the trial court granted State Farm's motion to strike. As a result, the documents that Ms. Gallagher produced belatedly were excluded from evidence at trial. According to Ms. Gallagher, some of her bills from the PICC line procedure were excluded because of the trial court's ruling on the motion to strike.

         On January 5, 2015, Ms. Gallagher's trial against State Farm commenced. After opening statements, the parties settled for $125, 000.00. The parties placed their settlement on the trial record, the trial judge ordered the case settled and dismissed with prejudice, and the clerk entered the settlement on the docket. On January 22, 2016, the parties filed a "Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice."

         The Medical Malpractice Action

         On November 9, 2015, Ms. Gallagher filed a claim against Mercy in the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office ("HCADRO"). Ms. Gallagher ultimately waived arbitration in her HCADRO action, and she filed a Complaint ("Medical Malpractice Complaint") against Mercy in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on April 15, 2016. Ms. Gallagher asserted that Mercy was vicariously responsible for the negligent medical care that she received during the PICC line procedure.[6] She sought damages for personal injuries, present and ...


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