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Texas Supreme Court: A Visitor's Slip-and-Fall in a Hospital is Not a Health Care Liability Claim

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The Texas Supreme Court recently held that a lawsuit based on a slip-and-fall that occurred in a hospital did not qualify as a health-care liability claim.

Lezlea Ross was leaving St. Luke's Hospital after visiting a patient when she slipped and fell in an area where the floors were being cleaned. She sued St. Luke's and Aramark Management, the company that contracted with the hospital to provide maintenance services. The hospital moved to dismiss on grounds that Ms. Ross did not timely submit the expert reports that are required to maintain a health care liability claim. The trial court agreed that the case should be dismissed and the appellate court affirmed.

The decisions of the trial and appellate court were based on Texas West Oaks Hospital, L.P. v. Williams, a case decided by the Texas Supreme Court in 2012. In that case, the Court held that a psychiatric technician's claims for injuries sustained in an altercation with a patient constituted health care liability claims. The Court analyzed both whether the claims were based on the health care provider's departures from standards for health care, and whether they were also based on alleged departures from standards for safety. Interpreting statutory language, the Court found that the claims related to safety standards did not need to be directly related to the provision of health care to qualify as health care liability claims. The trial and appellate courts relied on this holding to dismiss Ms. Ross's case.

However, the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal, reasoning that "[t]he pivotal issue in a safety standards-based claim is whether the standards on which the claim is based implicate the defendant's duties as a health care provider, including its duties to provide for patient safety." In essence, the Court refused to read the statute as conferring benefits based on the identity of the defendant as opposed to the nature of the claim asserted. Doing so would give certain defendants a procedural advantage by allowing them to force plaintiffs in all suits to file expert reports.

The Court noted that it might not always be clear whether a safety-standards based claim is a health care liability claim or not. The opinion lists seven non-exhaustive considerations that are appropriate in making that determination. In Ms. Ross's case, all seven of those considerations weighed in her favor.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a slip-and-fall accident, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or toll free at 1-800-870-9584.

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