Houston appellate court finds that safety claim against Texas hospital isn't limited by tort reform

In a new opinion, Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals disposed of one of the seemingly never-ending stream of hospital cases trying to expand the brutal scope of tort reform. Fortunately, this time common sense prevailed.

In Harris County Hospital District v. McNew, a hospital worker did her job in a private administrative office that was off-limits to patients. The office was located next door to a radiation-emitting device. When the worker developed an aggressive type of breast cancer, she filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital was negligent by assigning her to work in an office next to as high levels of radiation.

Any time a new lawsuit is contemplated or filed involving hospital, the plaintiff and attorney must consider whether it’s necessary to invest the time and expense in obtaining a medical expert. If the complaint falls within the rather broad confines of a “health care liability claim,” as defined by the Texas tort reform statute, then the answer is a resounding “yes.”

If the claim has anything to do with medical malpractice, then it’s inevitable that at least one medical expert will be required. That qualified expert will have to define in a written report what the standard care was, specifically how the hospital, doctor, or nurse violated the standard care, and how it caused harm to the patient.

Interestingly, to fall within the scope of tort reform, a claim against the hospital or other healthcare provider doesn’t necessarily have to involve medical malpractice. For example, the Texas Supreme Court previously held that a plaintiff alleging a breach in the standards of safety still must produce an expert report. Specifically, in Ross v. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, 462 S.W.3d 496, 405 (Tex. 2015), the court made it clear that safety-related claims not directly related to the provision of healthcare still fall within the tort reform statute.

In the McNew case, the 14th Court of Appeals applied the Supreme Court’s analysis in Ross, noting that the evidence showed that the plaintiff wasn’t injured in a place available to patients (it wasn’t a patient care area), wasn’t seeking receiving healthcare at the time of the injury, and she wasn’t providing or assisting healthcare when she was injured.

As with any of these cases, the devil’s in the details. Interestingly, the plaintiff wasn’t an employee of the hospital, but rather was performing statistics-related research under a government-funded grant.

In the end of its analysis, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff safety claim wasn’t covered by tort phone, so no expert report was necessary.

Importantly, the decision restated the rule that because the plaintiff “did not assert a claim based on facts implicating the Hospital’s conduct during any care, treatment, or confinement” of the worker, “no rebuttable presumption arose that [the worker’s] claim is a health care liability claim, so the Hospital for the burden of proving that [the plaintiff’s] claim is a health care liability claim.” The court then ruled that the hospital didn’t meet its burden and dismissed the appeal.

If you’ve been injured because of any type of hospital claim, contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case, including whether a medical expert will be required.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.