Supreme Court sides with appellate court in medical malpractice case over woman's death

By Charmaine Little | Jun 25, 2018

AUSTIN – The Supreme Court of Texas upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeals for the 14th District of Texas in a medical-malpractice case over a woman's death.

The high court agreed with the lower court that the evidence of causation was legally sufficient and rejected defendant Dr. Debra Gunn's argument that the woman's death created a "windfall" for her husband.

According to the Feb. 8 order, Shannon McCoy suffered brain damage and quadriplegia following pre- and post-delivery complications in 2004. She died in 2015. Her husband, Andre McCoy, filed a lawsuit against her prenatal physician, Gunn, as well as Obstetrical and Gynecological Associates PA and Obstetrical and Gynecological Associates PLLC.

Cardiologist Dr. James Collins was initially named a defendant in the lawsuit as he discovered Shannon had an elevated heart rate and gave her Digoxin to treat it. He was later removed from the lawsuit. Previous defendants Woman's Hospital and Dr. Mark Jacobs reached a settlement agreement with McCoy for $1.2 million. The remaining defendants, Gunn and OGA, argued McCoy and his family members, Collins and the treating nurses contributed to Shannon's brain damage due to their alleged negligence.

McCoy responded with a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, the order states. The trial court granted his request. At trial, the jury ruled in favor of McCoy regarding Gunn's negligence and awarded him $10.6 million in damages for past and future medical expenses. The trial court also applied a dollar-for-dollar settlement credit of $1.2 million to offset the verdict, the order states. The court concluded both OGA and Gunn were jointly and severally liable.

McCoy then continued the legal battle as he postponed the entry of judgment for two years and included new defendants. Still, the trial court ruled in favor of the new defendants and the court of appeals backed its decision. A final judgment was signed in 2013.

Gunn and OGA appealed the decision, and the appeals court determined there wasn't enough evidence to prove the award amount of $7,242,403 that was distributed for future medical expenses and changed it to $7,082,549. Gunn and OGA filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to evaluate the appeals court rulings. 

The Supreme Court determined the appeals court was correct when it ruled there was not enough evidence to prove causation against the defendants. It also decided the medical billing affidavits were relevant and valid via section 18.001.

The Supreme Court also refused to accept Gunn’s claim that Shannon’s passing just days before the appeals court ruled caused a windfall for her husband. The court went on to point out Gunn waived her argument with regard to the trial court’s no-evidence summary judgment on comparative responsibility, according to the opinion.

Justice Phil Johnson filed a dissenting opinion. He stated the trial court’s decision to exclude the expert testimony concerning future medical care expenses for McCoy was not “harmless,” according to his opinion. 

He stated he would reverse the court of appeals judgment regarding the future and past medical expenses and remand it back to the trial court, or reverse the judgment so that McCoy would take nothing regarding those expenses.

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