Thanks to a series of tort reforms in Texas, the Dallas emergency room that initially missed the diagnosis of Thomas Eric Duncan’s fatal case of Ebola has layers of protections from malpractice lawsuits.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas saw Duncan in its emergency room just as his symptoms were appearing. He was sent home with antibiotics and painkillers, but returned a few days later in serious condition and eventually died in the hospital of Ebola. 

Executives at Texas Health Presbyterian have admitted to mistakes and apologized to Duncan’s family.

In Texas, laws enacted in 2003 requires emergency room patients to prove not just negligence by the hospital, but “willful and wanton” negligence.

Since Duncan was examined, given and CT scan and prescribed medicine – even though the diagnosis was wrong – the staff stil met the minimum level of treatment.

And even if Duncan’s family says the delay in diagnosis cost him his life, they would have a very hard time proving the hospital caused his death since he was already so ill when he returned.

In addition, Texas tort reforms capped pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases at $250,000 from the doctor and $250,000 from the hospital.

The nurses that contracted Ebola from treating Duncan can’t sue the hospital either. They can file claims for their health care and lost work, since a 2012 Texas Supreme Court decision expanded the definition of a “health care liability claim” to include nurses claims against they hospitals where they work and even to hospital visitors who might file a slip and fall claim against a hospital.

Tort reforms grew from doctors’ complaints that they had to practice “defensive medicine” – like ordering a lot of tests that may not have even been necessary – because they feared being sued for malpractice. Proponents claim the reforms have made Texas a more appealing place for doctors to set up practice.

But opponents say the damage caps have made doctors and hospitals less afraid to screw up and made getting compensation for victims more difficult.

According to the Texas Observer, the Texas Alliance for Patient Access shows that there have been more than 2,600 emergency room lawsuits under the reforms and more than $120 million in payouts, disproving the idea that no one files suits under the new laws or is able to receive compensation.



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