Texas hospital hit with $40M+ verdict for allowing physician with license on probation to work at hospital

A Texas hospital settled a medical malpractice claim for $9 million instead of appealing a $43 million jury verdict in favor a patient. We’ll call the patient Bill.

Bill was experiencing pain because of gallstones and went to the hospital for treatment. A gastroenterologist physician saw him. We’ll call him Dr. Smith.

According to the medical malpractice lawsuit, Bill needed a surgery called ERCP, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. ERCP is a specialized procedure performed by gastroenterology physicians to explore and fix problems with the bile system and pancreatic ducts.

At trial, the plaintiffs contended that an ERCP is exactly what Bill needed at the Texas hospital. They presented expert evidence that Dr. Smith misdiagnosed Bill and didn’t perform the ERCP surgery. Instead, the plaintiffs argued that Dr. Smith’s treatment plan seriously injured Bill, leaving him in a medically-induced coma for over a month and requiring a liver transplant.

Should a hospital allow on-probation physicians?

That’s all bad enough, but what caught the jury’s ire was the fact that the hospital allowed Dr. Smith to continue to practice on its medical staff despite being on probation by the Texas Medical Board.  

That’s likely why the jury found the hospital 90% responsible and Dr. Smith just 10% responsible, despite Bill’s problems being caused by medical/physician decision-making.

Hospital versus physician liability

The jury’s verdict is particularly interesting given a Texas law known as the corporate practice of medicine doctrine. This doctrine means that only physicians can practice medicine, not corporate entities, including hospitals.

Any layperson or realist will recognize that the corporate practice of medicine doctrine is an absurd joke. Contemporary hospitals meddle with physician decision-making every day. In fact, some Texas hospitals are still fighting physician lawsuits over hospital mandates that dictate how doctors practice medicine in the COVID environment and beyond.

While in practice, the corporate practice of medicine doctrine is a joke, it’s still very much alive in Texas courtrooms. As a result, hospitals generally aren’t held liable for the negligence of physicians on their medical staffs.

The secrecy of credentialing physicians

Hospitals are required to perform background investigations and vetting of physicians who apply for admission to the medical staff. The process is called credentialing. Hospitals are required to credential physicians and then re-credential them periodically, with the goals of ensuring competence and patient safety.

Unfortunately, Texas law keeps details of the credentialing process privileged. When a patient is harmed by the acts of an incompetent physician, it’s not possible to obtain the physician’s credentialing file from the hospital to determine whether the hospital did an adequate background check and verify that it was safe for the physician to work on the medical staff.

That’s what makes Bill’s victory unique. His legal team was able to use the Texas Medical Board’s order placing Dr. Smith on probation to prove to the jury the hospital didn’t follow its own bylaws. The hospital’s bylaws, which were discoverable in the lawsuit, should have prevented Dr. Smith from being able to treat patients at the hospital while his license to practice medicine was under probation with the Texas Medical Board.

Experienced Texas medical malpractice attorneys know where to look to find evidence that can be used in court to hold hospitals and health care providers responsible for serious patient injuries.

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.