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Texas Supreme Court Reduces Verdict

The lawsuit of Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, Inc. d/b/a Las Colinas Medical Center v. Hogue was a medical malpractice death case. In it, the hospital operated an emergency room without having an echocardiograph available on a "stat" basis. Further, it did not warn its staff and the doctors that there would be a delay when one was ordered. Because of that delay, the patient died.

The Supreme Court affirmed the jury's determination that the hospital was grossly negligent. Here, the hospital outsourced the "echo" services. Though the hospital's medical director testified that it was "obvious" that an echo would be needed on a stat basis, the hospital did not contract for that. "[T]here is sufficient evidence to support the jury's conclusion that Columbia Medical acted with conscious indifference to an extreme risk of serious injury when it (1) elected to outsource echo services without a guaranteed response time while providing emergency services, (2) failed to communicate this limitation to its medical staff so they could consider other options to treat critical care patients, and (3) delayed obtaining the echo in spite of the serious risk to Hogue's health."

But after affirming the finding of gross negligence, the Supreme Court reversed the jury's award of loss of inheritance damages. "When loss of inheritance damages are recoverable, a plaintiff must prove that the decedent's earnings less his expenditures would have left an estate for his beneficiaries to inherit and that the beneficiaries would have outlived the decedent. . . . If a plaintiff proves loss of inheritance damages, the beneficiary is entitled to the present value of the beneficiary's share of what the decedent's estate would have been if the decedent had died a natural death."

Here, the Court added new elements to the required proof, and then ruled that the plaintiffs' evidence was insufficient. They "presented evidence that she was three years younger than [deceased], that life expectancy tables showed her outliving her husband by nearly seven years, and that the jury observed her appearance and demeanor in court. There was also testimony regarding her employment. . . . We will not . . . require proof that Hogue's wife would have no health problems in the future, but we do require at least some evidence of the beneficiary's health."

The Court also ruled that evidence was insufficient of deceased's estate. Plaintiffs' expert considered deceased's "savings accounts, stock portfolio, equity in the marital home, and estimated future earnings based on past earnings and work expectancy tables. While this evidence goes a long way . . . , it does not cross the finish line." The "figures used in the analysis must be specific to the decedent." Though some data were, the "work expectancy age of seventy years old . . . did not account for the additional factors of Hogue's health after his operative procedure (had it been successful), post-operative recuperation time, or likely future medical expenses. Instead, Dr. Self based his calculations on an 'average person,' and he extracted a working expectancy of seventy years old from the work expectancy table, . . . [which] improperly failed to account for the health of the decedent." The expert's assumptions about paying off the house were contrary to the "undisputed facts," and he did not take into account the "Hogues were building a new home."

So, in this rare case, the Supreme Court upheld the jury's finding of gross negligence, but took away the jury's finding of loss of inheritance damages.

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