A Tarrant County, Texas jury awarded a substantial verdict of over $8 million in an anesthesia medical malpractice case. According to the lawsuit petition and evidence introduced by the plaintiff, a woman named Angela Davis sustained serious, irreversible brain damage and other significant injuries from a medication error when she received anesthesia.
Her hospital-acquired injury left her unable to communicate in any way other than blinking and grunting. Now she can’t feed herself and requires round-the-clock care.
The manner in which the jury apportioned blame must have left the hospital, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth, reeling.
Like many other hospitals, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth, entered into a contract with an anesthesia practice group to provide anesthesia services in its facility. In this case, the practice group was Sundance Anesthesia, PA.
Sundance Anesthesia is a professional association with managers including Bruce Leitch MD, Jeffrey Jordan MD, James Harper MD, Jeffrey Honer MD, and Doug Jones MD. Although this anesthesia practice group is owned by physicians, others are owned and operated by certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).
Whether physician or CRNA owned, hospital contracts may specify whether the anesthesia practice group will provide anesthesia coverage with doctors and/or CRNAs. Although most patients don’t realize it, in many hospitals, CRNAs provide substantially all of the operating room anesthesia care, rather than physician anesthesiologists.
Under Texas law, hospitals are not allowed to practice medicine. The original idea behind this document is that doctors, not corporations, are responsible for practicing medicine. (My, how things have changed)! Thus, Texas hospitals generally don’t have physician employees.
As a practical matter, though, hospital contracts with medical practice groups in areas including anesthesia, emergency medicine, trauma surgery, and other specialists, impose requirements on how medical services are provided in hospital facilities. The standard of care also requires that hospitals have appropriate policies and procedures in place to ensure proper medical care.
This was a significant issue in the Tarrant County lawsuit.
The plaintiffs alleged that the hospital itself was negligent by failing to develop and implement policies to make sure that patients like Angela Davis would be safe, and by not exercising reasonable care in formulating and enforcing rules, policies and procedures to govern its medical staff and other personnel.
Specifically, a medical expert for the plaintiff testified that the hospital should have written procedures in place to prevent medication errors. The hospital conceded that they did not have any such written procedures.
The lawsuit was also critical of the hospital for failing to properly evaluate, train, monitor, and/or supervise the anesthesiologist that was an employee of Sundance Anesthesia.
Of course, the hospital’s defense was that it bore no responsibility because the anesthesiologist wasn’t a hospital employee. In other words, the alleged error was Sundance’s responsibility, as the employer. Interestingly, the hospital spokesperson conceded that a mistake was made, commenting that, “no policy can prevent human error by people contracted to provide care at the hospital.”
Despite the fact the medication error was by the anesthesiologist, the Tarrant County jury found the hospital 65% responsible, and only apportioned 35% liability on Sundance Anesthesia.
There’s a lot to consider in this jury verdict. I think it shows that the public realizes that clever contracts between hospitals and medical practice groups don’t mean that the hospitals relinquish control of health services that are provided in their facilities. Thus, they should be held accountable.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor hospital or medical care in Texas, then contact a top-rated and experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.