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Can A Plaintiff’s Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Get Dismissed If She Dies?

One would think a medical malpractice lawsuit could — and would — evolve into a wrongful death lawsuit if the plaintiff were to pass away during proceedings, but that’s not what happened when Katrina Dennis sued the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. She accused the hospital and one of its doctors of medical malpractice for failing to prevent a recurrence of her breast cancer, but when she passed away the presiding judge dismissed her case.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for some, especially since Dennis was such an important member of the Baltimore community. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan described her relationship with the community in a tweet after she died: “Katrina was a top lawyer, a respected leader in the Baltimore region, and someone who lived each day committed to giving back to her community.”

The case’s dismissal has left some people asking how and why something like this could be allowed to happen. Was the case found frivolous by the presiding judge or the plaintiff’s own attorneys, or was it dismissed for yet another reason? In order for the case to have continued in court, it would have required the go ahead from Dennis’ attorneys. More likely a close family member could have picked up where Dennis left off, but decided against going to the trouble or prolonging a period of grief.

Dennis was a member of the Education Policy and Student Life Committee, the Organization and Compensation Committee, chair of the Coppin State University Presidential Search Committee, and a member on the Board of Regents.

She was suing the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center for a massive $24 million in damages after accusing the hospital and one of its doctors of not providing an appropriate standard of care. According to Dennis, the doctor led her into the false assumption that breast cancer could not recur once it was cured. She was first diagnosed in 2015, and hoped that would be it.

But then she underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor only to be diagnosed again in 2017. Breast cancer cells had multiplied to spread throughout her bones, blood, and organs. The case also details that Dennis believed she should have been placed on a drug called Tamoxifen to reduce the chances the cancer cells would continue to spread. It didn’t happen.

Dennis died in the middle of the two-week trial in the Baltimore County Circuit Court.