Texas Supreme Court again expands the definition and scope of Health Care Liability Claims

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by Eric Pearson

The Texas Supreme court has held that a claim that a nursing home resident was discharged in retaliation as a result of complaints made by her family is a “Health Care Liability Claim” under the Texas Medical Liability Act (“TMLA”). As a result, the claim was dismissed for a failure to comply with the TMLA’s expert report requirements. The decision in PM Management-Trinity NC, LLC v. Kumets, No. 12-0451, (Tex. June 28, 2013) is the latest chapter in the high court’s expansion of the reach of a statute intended to apply to medical malpractice claims. This unwarranted expansion has led to the summary dismissal of numerous meritorious claims against hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities.

The TMLA was enacted in 2003 as part of a package of “tort reform” legislation. While the law was intended to curtail meritless medical malpractice claims, its effect has been to make it extraordinarily difficult for plaintiffs to bring meritorious medical malpractice and negligence claims. As a result, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits brought in Texas has plummeted while the promised reduction in insurance premiums and health care costs has yet to materialize.

One portion of the TMLA is the expert report requirement found in Section 74.351. According to that statute, any plaintiff bringing a Health Care Liability Claim must submit a supporting expert report within 120 days of filing their lawsuit. If such a report is not filed, or a filed report is found to be deficient, the plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed.

Over the last several years, the Texas Supreme has taken an unreasonably expansive view of the types of claims that constitute Health Care Liability Claims and thus require the submission of an expert report. For example, in Texas West Oaks Hospital LP LLC v. Williams, 371 S.W.3d 171 (Tex. 2012), the court held that a claim by an employee of a private mental health care facility that he was injured by a patient as a result of the facility’s failure to provide the employee with proper training was a Health Care Liability Claim. It held in St. David’s Healthcare P’ship, L.P. v. Esparza, 348 S.W.3d 904 (Tex. 2011) that a claim stemming from a slip and fall as a result of lubricating gel left on the floor of a hospital was a Health Care Liability Claim. And it held in Omaha Healthcare Ctr., LLC v. Johnson, 344 S.W.3d 392 (Tex. 2011) that a premises liability claim that arose when a nursing home patient was bit by a brown recluse spider was a Health Care Liability Claim.

In Kumets, an elderly woman suffered a stroke and was later admitted to a nursing home. While there, she suffered a second stroke. Her family voiced numerous complaints about her care and treatment, and she was discharged by the nursing home. Her family filed suit, asserting traditional medical malpractice claims as well as an entirely separate claim for retaliatory discharge. They filed an expert report addressing the medical malpractice claim but not the discharge claim. Trinity filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the plaintiff was required to file an expert report relating to her discharge claim because the claim was a Health Care Liability Claim under the TMLA. The trial court denied the motion and the court of appeals affirmed, finding that the retaliation claim did not directly involve the care and treatment of Ms. Kumets and sought only damages for economic injuries. The Texas Supreme Court reversed. It noted that another claim brought by Kumets, for breach of fiduciary duty, also alleged that she had been wrongly discharged. That claim, the court noted, had been held to be a Health Care Liability Claim, a holding Kumets had not appealed. Because her separate discharge claim was based on the same facts as another claim already held to be a Health Care liability Claim, the court held, it too was a Health Care Liability Claim. It explained that “[w]hen a plaintiff asserts a claim that is based on the same underlying facts as an HCLC that the plaintiff also asserts, both claims are HCLCs and must be dismissed if the plaintiff fails to produce a sufficient expert report.” The Texas Supreme Court reversed the holding of the court of appeals and, directed the trial court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ case and ordered that the plaintiffs pay Trinity’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Think you may have a medical malpractice claim?

The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have the experience and expertise to assist injured patients with their medical malpractice claims. Our attorneys have successfully represented numerous victims of medical malpractice. Among our attorneys’ recent verdicts, settlements and results are the following:

  • Jim Orr negotiated a settlement of $6.75 million on behalf of a family whose 8 year-old child was left with permanent brain damage as a result of medical errors at a VA hospital.
  • Michael Heygood won a $2.2 million jury verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a newborn infant who was prematurely discharged from the hospital even though it had low glucose levels.
  • Eric Pearson argued the appeal in the case of Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, 271 S.W.3d 238 (Tex. 2009). The Texas Supreme Court upheld a finding of gross negligence against the defendant hospital in a medical malpractice case and affirmed the jury’s verdict of $9 million in favor of his clients.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the knowledge, experience and financial resources necessary to prosecute even the most complex medical negligence case. If you believe you or a loved one has suffered as a result of medical malpractice, please contact us or a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options. You can call us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or contact us online by filling out the free case evaluation form located on the top of this page.