I had an interesting conversation this morning with an attorney friend about whether Texas tort reform law applies to circumstances following a patient’s death. When time allows, I enjoy being a resource for other lawyers with questions about medical malpractice or health law matters.
The specific situation involved a patient who died at a hospital. The body was dropped as it was being moved within the facility, causing facial damage that resulted in a closed-casket funeral.
The Texas Medical Liability Act (“Act”), which is codified at Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Chapter 74, is the broad tort reform statute that applies to health care liability claims. I always recommend treading carefully, and certainly considering the applicability of tort reform requirements, anytime a hospital, physician, or healthcare provider is involved in a potential claim.
At first blush, the Act’s definition of “health care” suggest that situations occurring after a patient’s death would not constitute a health care liability claim. The statute defines “health care” as “any act or treatment performed or furnished, or that should have been performed or furnished, by any health care provider, for, to, or on behalf of a patient during the patient’s medical care, treatment, or confinement.” After a patient is deceased, there’s no more health care being provided.
But the analysis doesn’t end there.
Section 74.001(a)(13) specifies that the tort reform law applies to all claims caused by a “departure from accepted standards of medical care, or healthcare, or safety or professional or administrative services directly related to health care.”
The statute is so expansively drafted that an attorney should carefully think about its applicability practically any time a claim is within the same zip code as a hospital!
In Christus Health Gulf Coast v. Carswell; No. 14-0362, the Texas Supreme Court reviewed a lawsuit involving allegations that the hospital didn’t obtain proper consent from a patient’s surviving spouse for an autopsy. The court pulled out a dictionary to look at what “directly related to means,” and ruled that it has a very broad application.
Moreover, the Carswell opinion noted that the Act doesn’t apply only to patients, but rather uses the word “claimants.” Thus, tort reform restrictions apply even to claims against hospital for professional or administrative services by a claimant on behalf of care provided to any patient, whether alive or deceased at the relevant time.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of issues related to a Texas hospital, physician, or health care provider, then contact an experienced top-rated Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.