Texas Supreme Court cites limits to med-mal law

Chris Rizo Aug. 31, 2009, 8:00am


AUSTIN (Legal Newsline)-The Medical malpractice law in Texas does not extend to claims unrelated to treatment, the state Supreme Court ruled last week.

In the case of Marks v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, the state high court was asked if an injury caused by a defective hospital bed constituted a "health care liability," subject the expert-report requirement imposed by the state's recent medical malpractice reforms.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the Lone Star State's medical malpractice reform statute -- known as the Medical Liability and Insurance Improvement Act -- was meant to affect malpractice, not just any accident that occurred at a medical facility.

"All patient injuries in a health care setting, regardless of cause, may be said to implicate patient safety in the broader sense, but not all patient injuries involve malpractice," the majority opinion by Justice David Medina said. "Given the statute's objective and the Legislature's express concern, the Legislature evidently did not intend to define safety as broadly as the hospital proposes."

The case involves Irving Marks, who fell and injured himself during his recuperation from back surgery at St. Luke's Hospital. The fall occurred when Marks attempted to use the bed's footboard to push himself up. The footboard came loose, causing Marks to fall.

He sued the Houston hospital, alleging negligence.

At trial, a Harris County court concluded that the hospital bed claim was a health care liability claim, which it then dismissed because of the patient's failure to file a timely expert report. Then, the court of appeals concluded the patient's claim was not a health care liability claim. After the Supreme Court remanded the case, the court affirmed the trial court's judgment.

In a dissent, Justice Phil Johnson wrote that he disagreed with three conclusions made by the majority.

"The first is that one injury based on a single set of facts can, by the manner in which pleadings are formulated, be both a health care liability claim and a non-health care liability claim. The second is that a hospital bed furnished to a post-surgery hospital inpatient is not an inseparable part of health care provided by the hospital. The third is that accepted standards of hospital safety do not include providing safe hospital beds to patients confined in the hospital," Johnson said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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