Melodie Hengerer and Derek Stikeleather persuaded the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to affirm the dismissal of a lawsuit against an organ procurement organization. In a case of first impression, the unanimous, published opinion (August 29, 2019) broadly immunizes OPOs from claims of mere negligence in the handling of donated organs as they move from the organ donor to the intended recipient.
The plaintiff sued the Maryland OPO, alleging that its negligent packaging, preservation and transportation of a kidney donated in Maryland damaged it, rendering it unsuitable for transplant upon arrival in Alabama. She sought recovery for mental and physical injuries and economic losses.
On Ms. Hengerer’s motion, the Circuit Court of Baltimore City dismissed the claim because the Maryland Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act and Section 19-310 of the Maryland Heath General Article broadly grant OPOs good-faith immunity at all stages of organ recovery, including post-removal activities. It rejected the plaintiff’s narrow reading that the statutes immunize only individuals who actually remove the organ from the body or mishandle the donor’s consent.
On appeal to Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals, Ms. Hengerer collaborated with Mr. Stikeleather to re-affirm the trial court’s broad construction of the immunity provisions for OPOs and others who participate in the organ-donation process. The panel concluded that the statute’s broad immunity for OPOs’ activities includes the packaging, preserving and transporting of the organs and tissues. The published precedential opinion notes that the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (“UAGA”) was intended to encourage and facilitate medical research, education, therapy and transplantation of human organs and tissue. Because it construes a Uniform Act, which Maryland and most other states have adopted as their anatomical gift statute, the opinion will provide strong persuasive authority nationwide for OPOs faced with similar negligence claims.