If you have cause to file a medical malpractice suit in Houston, TX, it’s important to understand state laws and how they can impact your case. From the statute of limitations to the monetary cap on non-economic damages, there are many terms and concepts to understand. Knowing about all this will help you understand the legal proceedings and ensure you’re comfortable with every decision you and your attorney make.
Were You Injured Due to Medical Malpractice?
Doctors, hospitals, and other health care professionals commit malpractice when an omission or negligent act leads to a patient’s injury. The negligence can be the result of errors in health management, aftercare, treatment, or diagnosis.
To meet the legal requirements of malpractice, a claim must reflect a violation of the standard of care. A patient has the right to expect providers to deliver what is widely recognized as acceptable care. If this standard is not met, negligence might be established.
A Full Understanding of Negligence
A claim must also show that an act of negligence resulted in injury. It’s not sufficient for a health provider to have simply violated the standard of care mentioned above. The patient needs to prove he or she sustained an injury that would have otherwise been prevented.
Keep in mind an unfavorable medical outcome in and of itself does not constitute malpractice. Negligence must be followed by a clear injury. If a patient sustained an injury without negligence, or negligence occurred but did not cause an injury, a case does not exist.
The final component in proving malpractice is significant damage. Medical malpractice suits pose a huge financial burden in terms of litigation; they often require countless hours of depositions and the testimony of many different medical experts. For a case to even reach this point, however, the patient must show he or she sustained significant damages because of an injury caused by medical negligence.
If the damages are present but small, the cost of pursuing the case may be greater than the eventual monetary reward. A malpractice case is viable only if the patient can show the injury gave way to:
- Substantial past and future medical bills
- Suffering and hardship
- Grave and/or unusual pain
- A considerable loss of income
Examples of Medical Negligence
Negligence that constitutes medical malpractice can take many different forms. Examples that may lead to a lawsuit include:
- Failure to recognize symptoms
- Disregarding or failing to take a patient’s appropriate history
- Poor follow-up or aftercare
- Premature discharge
- Improper medication or dosage
- Unnecessary surgery
- Wrong site of surgery or surgical errors
- Misreading or ignoring lab results
The Prevalence of Malpractice
Scientists at Johns Hopkins estimate medical errors comprise the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. The exact number of deaths that occur is hard to identify, but The Journal of the American Medical Association reports more than 100,000 people die each year just from negative medication consequences. Another 1.5 million people are believed to suffer injury every year from medication mistakes.
Can a Doctor Be Sued for Medical Negligence?
With the help of a lawyer in Houston, TX, you can sue if a provider failed to properly diagnose or treat a condition or refer you to an appropriate specialist. Remember this negligence must have also resulted in serious injury or death. If the negligence occurred during your stay in a hospital, or the doctor was employed by a hospital system, you may be able to additionally name the hospital as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Many times, a doctor or surgeon maintains a private practice or is an independent contractor of a hospital. In these cases, the hospital may assert its innocence for any negligent care provided by a non-employee in its facility. It is then up to the court to determine exactly who is responsible for the case. A hospital is often liable for mistakes made on patient floors, in the emergency room, and within surgical centers.
Can You Learn If a Doctor Has Previously Been Sued for Negligence?
No public database is available to tell you if a doctor has been sued in the past. You can, however, search case listings in courthouses in and around Houston, TX. Many courts now provide the opportunity to search case listings online using a party’s first and last name. Learning if your doctor has been involved in previous negligence suits can help strengthen your case.
What Texas Law States
Texas law states that a party who suffers an injury because of medical negligence has two years from the date of the injury to file a malpractice suit. That two years may also start on the date the injury was discovered or would have been identified with reasonable diligence.
For instance, a physician might negligently prescribe the wrong medication or an incorrect dosage. A patient who takes this medication under mistaken advice is likely to experience problems later than the original prescription date. The two-year statute of limitations may then start when the patient noticed problems, not the date the medication was actually prescribed.
A Few Exceptions to Be Aware Of
The guidelines above, however, are not absolute. Texas observes a statute of repose in which no malpractice suits filed more than 10 years after the negligent act occurred are recognized. Here’s another caveat residents of Houston, TX, must know: Texas maintains exceptions to the statute of limitations if negligence occurred when a patient was under the age of 18.
Any person who files a malpractice case in Texas must submit an affidavit of merit on each defendant within 120 days of the case filing. Non-compliance with this order can influence how the statute of limitations applies to a case. To illustrate, if you file a case within the two-year deadline but fail to provide a certificate of merit, your case may be dismissed. The affidavit of merit must summarize:
- A qualified expert’s opinion on the applicable standard of care
- How the defendant(s) failed to meet that standard
- The link between the failure and the injury sustained by the plaintiff
Caps on Non-Economic Damages
Texas is one of many states that implements a cap on non-economic damages in malpractice suits. Economic damages, which are easier to substantiate and cover losses like medical bills, are not capped for those in Houston, TX. Non-economic damages include compensation for:
- Anxiety and stress
- Loss of life enjoyment
- Pain and suffering
- Additional subjective losses
What exactly are these caps? A limit of $250,000 per claimant is placed on cases against one physician or other health care provider. Cases against multiple providers maintain a cap of $500,000 per claimant for non-economic damages. And, finally, no institution is obligated to pay more than $250,000 per claimant in non-economics.
A Final Requirement
Before your malpractice case can be filed, Texas law requires that you provide written notice of the claim to the healthcare provider(s) named in the lawsuit. This notice must be delivered by certified mail, return receipt requested, at least 60 days before the case is filed. Your attorney can take care of this step for you, but being aware of it is important so you continue to meet all requisite deadlines.
If you have questions about filing a malpractice suit in Texas, don’t take any chances. Choose the state’s oldest trial law firm for plaintiffs, and enjoy a team of attorneys who will fight not only for justice but also your compensation. Schedule a free consultation today by contacting the office of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner.