Recent news accounts from Dallas report that family members suspect that a 34-year-old woman died after receiving injections to improve the appearance of her buttocks. The incident highlights the rights-or, rather, the sharply curtailed rights-Texans have when a procedure turns fatal.
In 2003, the Legislature passed changes to the medical malpractice laws in Texas. Some features were unconstitutional, so a vote was placed on the ballot in the fall, at a time when football season was getting underway and when significant political races were not being decided. In a narrow vote of the small turnout, an amendment to the constitution was passed that permitted the legislative changes.
The result is Chapter 74 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Its sweeping changes make it harder and more expensive to vindicate patients’ rights, and significantly limit any potential recovery they may obtain. Moreover, its broad language has been applied to a host of other situations that far exceed the purported doctors’ malpractice insurance “crisis” that was used to justify the passage of Chapter 74.
Using this language, the Supreme Court has since ruled that Chapter 74’s strictures limit injuries caused by spider bites, a broken hospital bed, and, more recently, laser hair removal. Thus, if the injections caused the woman’s death in Dallas, and if her family decides to seek justice, they will likely be governed by Chapter 74.
Unknown to many Texans, Chapter 74 limits non-economic damages to $250,000. If more than one health care provider causes the harm, and they are not all doctors, then the victims could-in theory-recover these limits up to three times. In reality, though, the likelihood that three different health care providers all caused the same patient’s death or serious injury is factually remote. Moreover, unlike some other laws that contain damages limitations, the amounts arbitrarily set by Chapter 74 are not indexed to inflation. Therefore, over time, patients’ rights will be continually, and silently, eroded further.
Because of these limits, the law’s effect is discriminatory against those who do not earn wages. As a result, claims for children, the elderly, and homemakers are significantly reduced in value, and accordingly harder to pursue. All of these factors mean that, if the injections caused the death of the woman in Dallas, the claims will likely be governed by, and reduced by, Chapter 74.