Supreme Court Rules for Hospital that Left Sponge in Woman

The Texas Supreme Court recently threw out the case of a woman who sued a hospital because it had left a sponge in her. Ms. Rankin began suffering abdominal pain in 2006, and she learned for the first time that a sponge was left inside her during a hysterectomy in 1995. When she filed suit against the hospital, it claimed that her case was barred by the statute of repose, even though she could not have known about the sponge during the intervening time. She countered that the statute of repose violated the Open Courts provision of the Texas Constitution. In the ruling of Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio, Ltd., L.L.P., et al. v. Rankin, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2010) (3/12/10), the Supreme Court held that the medical malpractice statute of repose “adopts a constitutionally permissible policymaking judgment of the Legislature,” and rendered a take-nothing judgment against Ms. Rankin.

Section 74.251(b) of the medical malpractice statute establishes a “ten-year statute of repose for healthcare-liability claims.” Statutes of repose, such as the one here, differ from statutes of limitations. A statute of repose “runs from a specified date without regard to accrual of any cause of action.” Here, the Supreme Court ruled that this statute controls, notwithstanding the Open Courts provision of the Texas Constitution.

“The Open Courts provision does not confer an open-ended and perpetual right to sue; it ‘merely gives litigants a reasonable time to discover their injuries and file suit.’ The Legislature may set an absolute cut-off point for healthcare suits, as it has for other suits, so long as the repose period is a reasonable exercise of the Legislature’s police power to act in the interest of the general welfare.”

Therefore, Ms. Rankin “will encounter . . . [a] statutory roadblock through no fault of [her] own. . . .” But because the Supreme Court gives a “wide berth” to the Legislature, it held that the act was constitutional and dismissed Ms. Rankin’s case.