Texas Supreme Court

Texas' highest court decided to remain on the sidelines Sept. 19, declining to hear a case on whether or not medical malpractice damage caps violate state constitutional rights.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported tgat attorneys for the hospital industry and the Texas Medical Association had appealed the issue directly to the Supreme Court in connection with a malpractice case settled in district court, bypassing the court of appeals.

The attorneys said that in 2003, when the Legislature approved caps on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, it allowed such direct appeals on constitutional questions.

The patient in the district court case had contended that the $250,000 cap violated constitutional provisions such as the right to due process, equal protection and jury trials, the article reported.

A spokesman for the nine-member court said it typically does not accept cases on direct appeal, no matter the topic.

In February, the Southeast Texas Record reported on a federal class action filed in the Marshall, Texas, that sought to nullify the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003. The suit argued that the state's limits on non-economic damages are unconstitutional.

Texas overhauled the state civil justice system by adopting the comprehensive tort reform bill (House Bill 4) regarding health care liability claims in 2003, which includes limits on non-economic damages. Economic losses are not capped and include factors like medical costs and lost income.

Texas capped non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits at $250,000 and death suits at $1.6 million, one of the lowest caps in the country. Since the reform, Texas has seen a flood of new applications for physicians.

Since the act's enactment, hundreds of med-mal suits have been filed in the area, with many of them claiming that the caps are unconstitutional.

In the federal suit, the class seeks a declaration that the non-economic damage cap violates constitutional provisions including violation of Seventh Amendment, the Petition Clause of the First amendment, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause and the rights guaranteed by the Privileges or Immunities of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The suit argues the cap has a direct impact on a plaintiffs' potential jury award, the likely extent of recovery in the case and the decision on whether the cost of proof relating to a capped recovery will be worth the effort of pursuing.

The suit argues the cap has a direct impact on a plaintiffs' potential jury award, the likely extent of recovery in the case and the decision on whether the cost of proof relating to a capped recovery will be worth the effort of pursuing.

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