Special Rules Apply to Medical Malpractice Claims

By Randy Turner

In 2003 Texas adopted a broad tort “reform” bill severely limiting the ability of Texans to seek redress in the courts when a patient is injured or killed by the negligence of a health care provider. Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies to all “health care liability claims.” These are claims against physicians, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, hospitals, nursing homes and others.

Expert report is required

Unlike other personal injury cases or malpractice claims against other professionals, in a medical malpractice case the plaintiff must, within 120 days after filing suit, provide expert reports describing how the health care provider was negligent and how that negligence caused the patient’s injury or death. The plaintiff may be granted a 30-day extension to file the report or cure a deficiency in the report. If the plaintiff fails to file an expert report or if the court decides that the expert report that was filed is not sufficient, then the judge is required to dismiss the lawsuit and order the plaintiff to pay all of the health care provider’s attorney’s fees.

Caps on damages

Unlike other personal injury cases or malpractice claims against other professionals in which the jury decides the maximum amount of damages that the plaintiff should recover, there is an arbitrary limit to how much the plaintiff may recover in a medical malpractice case. The plaintiff is limited to recovering $250,000 in non-economic damages from all doctors and individuals, no matter what his or her actual damages are. These damages are limited to $250,000 from each hospital or other institution and a total of $500,000 from all institutions.

The cap applies to each “claimant,” which includes everyone seeking damages due to one person’s injury or death. In a medical malpractice action for wrongful death, damages (both economic and non-economic) are limited to $500,000 (in 1977 dollars) plus the cost of any necessary medical or custodial care. The cap is adjusted annually for inflation and is now approximately $1,650,000. This limit applies to the total recovery, not separately to each defendant.

The caps on damages in malpractice cases in Texas apply no matter what the jury finds the actual damages are, which means that, in many cases, the injured patient or the family of a patient who was killed by medical negligence will recover only a fraction of their actual damages.

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