I have often written about the absurd, nonsensical decisions of the Texas Supreme Court in regard to what is and what is not a “health care liability claim”. In the past, the Court has gone way out of its way to define virtually anything and everything involving a hospital, doctor’s office or a health care provider as a “health care liability claim” This is so because giving a claim that label invokes the legal requirement that the claimant must meet multiple onerous procedural requirements including, most importantly, the requirement of filing an “Expert Report”. If the expert report requirement is not satisfied, then the claimant’s case is dismissed. In other words, by labeling a claim something it truly isn’t, the Court can place many obstacles in the path of a claimant and give the health care provider more opportunities to defeat the claim. Since the effective date of the current medical malpractice law (September 1, 2003), the decisions of the Court have reached such ridiculous extremes that lawyers joked sardonically about how biased the Court had become in that regard.
At long last, the Court has issued an opinion that may indicate a turning point.
The case involves a claim against a hospital by a visitor who fell in the hospital lobby. As had become the custom among all health care liability attorneys, the hospital’s attorneys contended that the visitor’s claim met the definition of a “health care liability claim” and that the claimant had to file an expert report written by experts, including at least one doctor, detailing all of the elements necessary to prove a medical malpractice claim. Since the claimant had not filed an expert report, they contended the case should be dismissed. The Trial Court disagreed. The hospital appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court and ordered a dismissal of the case. The claimant appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. Importantly, the hospital was relying upon precedent established by the Texas Supreme Court in an earlier similar case. I feel sure the hospital’s attorneys felt confident the hospital would win based on this precedent. Nevertheless, the Texas Supreme Court ruled for the visitor and against the hospital. In order to do this, the Court had to distinguish this case from its earlier cases and ultimately concluded that “the record before us does not reflect a substantive nexus between the safety standards… and the hospital’s provision of health care.”
Unfortunately, the method by which the Court reached its decision leaves the door open for unfortunate future decisions, but the case may signal that the Court is retreating from the absurdity of some of its prior decisions and will take a more common sense approach in the future.
The case is Reddic v. E. Tex. Med Ctr, 2015 Tex, Lexis 1006, October 30, 2015.