October 30, 2015

This week, the Supreme Court of Texas issued three per curiam opinions. One of these, relating to health care liability claims under the Texas Medical Liability Act, is of particular significance.

In Reddic v. East Texas Medical Center Regional Health Care System, the Plaintiff-a non-patient hospital visitor-filed suit against the Defendant hospital on the basis of premises liability for injuries sustained after she "slipped on a floor mat between the hospital's main entrance and the front desk." No. 14-0333 (Tex. Oct. 30, 2015), available at http://www.txcourts.gov/media/1130404/140333.pdf. The hospital responded to the lawsuit by alleging that the Plaintiff's cause of action constituted a health care liability claim ("HCLC") under the Texas Medical Liability Act. According to the hospital's reasoning, because the Plaintiff failed to timely serve an expert report on the hospital, section 74.351(a-b) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code required that the case be dismissed.

The trial court disagreed with the Defendant hospital and denied its Motion to Dismiss. On appeal, the Tyler Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court, holding that the maintenance of floor areas with high patient traffic has an "indirect relationship to the provision of health care that is sufficient" as a health care liability claim. E. Tex. Med. Ctr. Reg'l Health Care Sys. v. Reddic, 426 S.W.3d 343 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2014). The Plaintiff petitioned for review by the Texas Supreme Court.

At issue before the Supreme Court of Texas was whether the "care of the floor around an area frequented by numerous patients" is sufficiently related to the "provision of health care" such that a non-patient visitor to a hospital can sustain a health care liability claim under the Texas Medical Liability Act.

Shortly after the Tyler Court of Appeals held in favor of the hospital, the Supreme Court of Texas decided the similar case of Ross v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. 462 S.W.3d 496 (Tex. 2015). In Ross, the claimant slipped and fell in a hospital lobby and filed suit on the theory of premises liability. The hospital, much like in today's opinion, argued that the claimant's circumstances were a health care liability claim and ought to be dismissed for her failure to serve an export report on the hospital.

The Supreme Court of Texas held, in Ross, that a "safety standards-based claim against a health care provider is an HCLC only if a 'substantive nexus' exists between the 'safety standards allegedly violated and the provision of health care.'" Reddic, No. 14-0333 at 3 (quoting Ross, 462 S.W.3d at 504). As guidance, the Court provided a non-exclusive list of factors to be considered:

§ Did the alleged negligence of the defendant occur in the course of the defendant's performing tasks with the purpose of protecting patients from harm;

§ Did the injuries occur in a place where patients might be during the time they were receiving care, so that the obligation of the provider to protect persons who require special, medical care was implicated;

§ At the time of the injury was the claimant in the process of seeking or receiving health care;

§ At the time of the injury was the claimant providing or assisting in providing health care;

§ Is the alleged negligence based on safety standards arising from professional duties owed by the health care provider;

§ If an instrumentality was involved in the defendant's alleged negligence, was it a type used in providing health care; or

§ Did the alleged negligence occur in the course of the defendant's taking action or failing to take action necessary to comply with safety-related requirements set for health care providers by governmental or accrediting agencies?

Ross, 462 S.W.3d at 505. Following this guidance, the Reddic Court answered "no" to each of the foregoing considerations. Reddic, No. 14-0333 at 3. Nevertheless, the Court addressed the hospital's two primary arguments.

First, the hospital argued that maintaining safe floors in common areas relates to the protection "of patients from harm." Ross, 462 S.W.3d at 505; see Reddic, No. 14-0333 at 5. The Tyler Court of Appeals found this argument persuasive enough to find in favor of the hospital. See generally Reddic, 426 S.W.3d 343. However, although the Court agreed that "floor care in an area frequented by persons seeking or receiving health care is related to the provision of health care," it is an insufficient relationship to support an HCLC. Reddic, No. 14-0333 at 5-6.

Second, the hospital argued that the Plaintiff's "negligence claim is substantively related to the provision of health care" because her circumstances could "support a claim based on safety standards imposed on the hospital by applicable federal and state authorities."Reddic, No. 14-03333 at 6. The Court disagreed. Id. at 7-8. The standards imposed by federal and state authorities, such as establishing a safety committee and written plans for managing safety, do not have a "substantive relationship" to the hospital's "failing to properly inspect and maintain its floor mats in the lobby." Id. at 7.

When presented with a set of facts almost duplicative of those in Ross, the Supreme Court of Texas stuck to its guns. See id. at 8-9. Much like in Ross, the Reddic Court found that there was an insufficient nexus between the provision of health care and the maintenance of floor mats in a hospital lobby to establish a HCLC under the Texas Medical Liability Act. Id. The decision of the Tyler Court of Appeals was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court for further litigation.

For a further discussion on the Ross case, you can find our previous Weekly Update regarding that case here:http://www.thebassettfirm.com/May-1-2015.shtml.

In between Ross and today's Reddic decision, the Houston Court of Appeals for the 14th District addressed a similar case: Lout v. Methodist Hospital. As part of its regular blog, The Bassett Firm has provided an overview of that case, which can be found here:http://www.thebassettfirm.com/blog/2015/08/falling-within-the-scope-of-chapter-74-the-fourteenth-court-of-appeals-clarifies-the-difference-betw.shtml.