Conflict of Laws and Consumer Protection in Medical Malpractice Litigation

Jones v. Clinch, — A.3d —, 2013 WL 3940814 (D.C. 2013)

The patient underwent an expensive eye surgery that proved to be ineffectual and sued her doctor for violation of DC’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The doctor argued that his dispute with the patient is governed by Maryland law that exempts doctors from its consumer protection laws.

The Court agreed with the doctor for the following reasons:

1. The place of the patient’s alleged injury was Maryland.

2. The consultation during which the patient decided to undergo eye surgery took place in the doctor’s Maryland office.

3. The patient resided in Virginia, but none of the activities relevant to her suit took place in that state.

4. The doctor’s clinic advertised its eye surgeries in DC, but this general advertisement was not as significant as the patient’s individual dealings with the doctor, all of which took place in Maryland.

The patient offered no evidence to show the doctor’s negligence nor was she able to prove an informed-consent violation. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals consequently affirmed the dismissal of her suit.

This decision is unquestionably correct.

However, the exemption from consumer protection laws that Maryland gives doctors is troubling. Leaving the financial side of the doctor/patient relationship unregulated is hardly a good idea. Under Maryland law, when a doctor induces his patient to undergo an expensive treatment instead of an equally effective but inexpensive one, the patient has no redress. The only meaningful protection the patient can count on is her health insurance that will refuse to authorize an unnecessarily expensive treatment. But what if the patient is uninsured?