A Maryland Health Claims Arbitration panel has awarded the family of an Eastern Shore man who died last April a $5 million malpractice judgment, the largest in the agency's 7-year history.

The three-member panel made a finding June 28 of malpractice against Dr. William J. Banfield, an Eastern Shore specialist in stomach and intestinal disorders, and granted the award to the parents of James W. Freeman, who was 38 when he died, according to Health Claims Arbitration Office director William Tabler.

Banfield's attorney, Roy Cowdrey Jr., said he will appeal the ruling to the Circuit Court in Talbot County, where Banfield has his practice, but declined to comment further on the verdict. The arbitration panel is the first hearing level for malpractice cases in the state and either side may appeal its findings.

Freeman's parents charged in their lawsuit that Banfield failed to suggest an operation on Freeman's intestine until his case became an emergency and doctors were forced to remove a portion of the intestine, according to Maurice Lewis Jr., an attorney representing Freeman's family.

Lewis said "we felt that if Banfield had advised the operation at an earlier time, Freeman's condition never would have deteriorated" to the extent that it did.

Freeman ultimately had several more operations in an Eastern Shore hospital and 11 others at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he died after having been hospitalized for about four years, Lewis said.

Freeman was employed at the Cambridge Banner in various positions until he became ill about six years ago, according to Lewis.