In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of Texas overturned a decision issued by the court of appeals in favor of a nursing home patient who alleged that a nursing home had retaliated against her after her family complained about its conditions. The Court treated the claim like a medical malpractice case, and dismissed it because some of the many procedural rules governing medical malpractice cases were not addressed.
The case is named Kumets v. PM Management-Trinity NC, LLC. In Kumets, the patient had suffered a stroke and was convalescing in Trinity Care Center. Due to substandard care Trinity allegedly provided to her, she then suffered another stroke. When the family complained about the treatment it administered, Trinity discharged her, allegedly in retaliation for the family’s complaints. The Texas Health and Safety Code expressly prohibits a nursing home from discharging a patient in retaliation for making a complaint about the facility. In addition, it provides the patient with a private cause of action against the nursing home.
When the patient’s family filed suit, they alleged theories of malpractice and, separately, that Trinity Care Center violated the Texas Health and Safety Code.
In 2003, the Texas Legislature dramatically altered the medical malpractice laws, reducing even further the rights of patients. One way it did so was to impose many onerous procedural burdens upon those who assert a health care claim, such as the obligation to file a certain type of expert report shortly after filing suit.
In the Kumets case, the patient’s family filed an expert report for the medical malpractice claims; however, the lower court considered it to be inadequate and dismissed the medical malpractice claim, but not the anti-retaliation case. Trinity appealed, and the court of appeals agreed that the anti-retaliation suit was not a health care claim (since the patient did not suffer “injury or death” as required by the statute) that necessitated a report. The Supreme Court disagreed. Even though it was an entirely different cause of action from the medical malpractice claim, the Court said that it arose from the same underlying facts as the patient’s theories of medical malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. In effect, the Court now requires this separate cause of action to comply with the medical malpractice burdens; since that did not occur, the Court dismissed the case and the patient’s family will have to pay the attorney’s fees of the nursing home.