In the case of Texas West Oaks Hospital v. Williams, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2012), the Texas Supreme Court ruled last month against a hospital worker who was injured on the job. The Court determined that he failed to comply with the extensive and expensive procedures for medical malpractice cases, dismissed his claim, and permitted the hospital to impose its attorney’s fees upon him.
The employee worked for a private psychiatric hospital. When a patient became violent, the patient was killed and the employee was injured in the incident. Since the hospital did not subscribe to workers’ compensation, the employee was required to sue the hospital. The hospital then claimed it was entitled to receive a report stating the manner it was at fault. This report is not required in cases of employees injured on the job. Instead, reports like this are part of a response by the Legislature to protect health care providers from a claimed malpractice insurance crisis. Such reports are expensive and time-consuming to obtain.
The worker was not a patient and did not file a malpractice report. Yet the Supreme Court ruled, for the first time, that the malpractice statute, known as Chapter 74, does not apply to only patients. It now applies to any person who claims that a health care provider violated a “safety” standard when providing care. Thus, if a person is bitten by a spider or slips due to gel on the floor, he will need to spend thousands of dollars to obtain an “expert report.” Ironically, there is no indication that the hospital’s malpractice insurer was involved in the case, which was the justification used to sharply reduce the rights of Texas patients when Chapter 74 was passed. Moreover, in addition to the delay necessary to acquire such a report, the health care provider can appeal the adequacy of the report even before trial. Rulings such as this cause waste and delay-two results that are inimical to the interests of justice.