Two families filed suit this week against Clear Lake Regional Medical Center over the deaths of their newborn babies. Both allege that the hospital and various doctors were responsible for the “negligent evaluation, treatment, and management” of their infants.
The families face significant hurdles because the law in Texas strongly protects the health care providers over the rights of patients. In 2003, health care providers made coordinated claims of a “malpractice insurance crisis” so that they could lower their insurance costs in order to increase their profits. The Legislature responded by passing a statute that was so sweeping in scope that it was unconstitutional. Accordingly, a constitutional amendment was also proposed that would permit the law to go into effect. The amendment was put on the ballot under circumstances calculated to produce a low turnout. Even then, it barely passed.
Under the statute, referred to as “Chapter 74,” many benefits and protections were conferred upon health care providers. For instance, unlike nearly every other area of law, a patient in a malpractice case must provide an expert report to the health care provider within 120 days after it answers the lawsuit. This report must be drafted without the benefit of any testimony or most other forms of discovery customarily used to obtain the evidence. And, if the report is deemed to be inadequate, the patient’s case is dismissed forever, and the patient must pay the health care provider for its legal fees. Additionally, Chapter 74 caps the patient’s damages. Thus, regardless of the severity of the harm, the non-economic damages against a hospital are capped at $250,000. This clearly prejudices patients who are not high wage earners, such as children, many women, and the elderly. In the case of a child who whose death was caused by a negligent doctor or hospital-perhaps the most emotionally devastating loss any parent could suffer-the case is capped at $250,000. Moreover, these caps, which were grossly unjust when established in 2003, are not indexed to inflation: as a result, the real economic limit has been eroding ever since … to the detriment of patients and their families, and to the benefit of hospitals and doctors.
For these reasons, we must applaud the efforts of the families of these unfortunate two babies. They recognize the financial limits of their cases; but as they have explained, they are proceeding with their lawsuit with the hope of preventing similar preventable tragedies from happening to other families.
In addition to the damage caps and expert report requirements, Chapter 74 imposes other, very technical requirements. It is therefore essential that patients who have suffered from medical malpractice retain a lawyer who is experienced in this challenging area of the law. Call us today at 713-396-3964 or 800-594-4884 for your free consultation.