Texas Supreme Court Ruling Clarifies Hospital Injury Law

The Texas Medical Liability Act (“TMLA”) was passed in 2003. This statute concerns lawsuits for medical malpractice. Unfortunately, some Texas courts have interpreted it to apply not only medical malpractice cases, but also injuries that occurred in a health care environment. As a result, health care workers who were injured on the job or visitors who were injured at medical providers’ facility were subject to the same limitations and procedural requirements as a medical malpractice lawsuit by a patient. In May of 2015, the Texas Supreme Court reviewed a case that challenged the classification of a non-patient injury that occurs on hospital premises as falling under the Texas Medical Liability Act.

Summary of the Supreme Court Ruling

The Texas Supreme Court recently held that a slip and fall in a hospital was not a health care liability claim (“HCLC”), which would have triggered certain procedural prerequisites under the TMLA. Under the TMLA, plaintiffs are required to file an expert report from a medical provider within 120 days of filing suit or they risk dismissal of their case.

In Ross v. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, Lezlea Ross was visiting a patient when she slipped and fell near the hospital’s exit doors where the floor was being cleaned and buffed. She sued St. Luke’s and its maintenance company, Aramark Management Services, on a premises liability theory. A trial judge and the 14th Court of Appeals concluded that her suit was a health care liability claim, not a premises liability claim, and dismissed her case for failure to timely file an expert report as required by the TMLA.

The Texas Supreme Court granted review and reversed the decision, holding that “for a safety standards-based claim to be an HCLC, there must be a substantive nexus between the safety standards allegedly violated and the provision of healthcare. And that nexus must be more than a ‘but for’ relationship.” This decision strays from the Court’s 2012 ruling in Texas West Oaks Hospital v. Williams, in which the Court ruled that safety standards-based claims did not need to be directly related to health care to qualify as an HCLC.

Justice Phil Johnson authored the majority opinion writing, “the pivotal issue in a safety standards-based claim is whether the standards on which the claim is based implicate the defendant’s duties as a health care provider, including its duties to provide for patient safety.” Thus, the Court found that other than the location of the occurrence and the hospital’s status as a health care provider, there was no substantive relationship between the safety standards the hospital allegedly breached and the provision of health care.

The Court acknowledged that the line is not clear as to whether a safety standards-based claim is an HCLC or is not an HCLC, but listed seven non-exclusive factors to guide that analysis. The Court explained that if the TMLA is interpreted too broadly, defendant health care providers would have a “special procedural advantage in the guise of requiring plaintiffs to file expert reports in their suits regardless of whether their cause of action implicated the provision of medical or health care.”

What Are the Implications of the Ruling?

In the simplest terms, the ruling means that lawsuits brought by health care workers who suffer an on-the-job injury or a non-patient who is injured on hospital premises should not be considered a health care liability claim. Therefore, the rights and remedies available through the court system for those injured in similar situations will no longer be restricted by the Texas Medical Liability Act in most cases.

What If I Have Been Injured at a Hospital?

If you have been injured on hospital or medical provider’s premises – whether as an employee or a visitor – it is important that you consult with a personal injury attorney who is knowledgeable about current Texas injury laws and the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the Texas Medical Liability Act. The specific facts of your case will determine your legal options.

At Arnold & Itkin, our personal injury attorneys will review your case and inform you of your legal rights at no cost to you. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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