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No Love In This Elevator

No Love in this Elevator.jpg

In recent opinion by the Dallas Court of the Appeals, the Court clarifies what a health care liability claim is and what is required before that claim can be dismissed.

The Facts:

In this case, Diana Garcia was at Methodist Hospital in Dallas visiting her daughter, who worked there. She claimed that she injured her neck and back when an elevator fell from the second floor to the first floor. Her pleadings claimed that Methodist Hospital, among other things, failed to follow proper safety standards and maintain a safe environment.

Methodist Hospital filed a Motion to Dismiss this claim pursuant to the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 74 arguing that Garcia's claim met the definition of a healthcare liability claim and therefore, she was required to file an expert report within 120 days of her original petition and failed to do so. The trial court denied their motion and this appeal followed.

The Court's Analysis:

At the time that Garcia filed her lawsuit, section 74.351 of the TCPRC stated:

In a health care liability claim, a claimant shall, not later than the 120th day after the date of the original petition was filed, serve on each party or the party's attorney, one or more expert reports... for each physician or health care provider against whom a liability claim is asserted.

Further, Chapter 74 defines a "health care liability claim" as:

[A] cause of action against a health care provider or physician for treatment, lack of treatment, or other claimed departure from accepted standards of medical care, or health care, or safety or professional or administrative services directly related to health care, which proximately results in injury to or death of a claimant, whether the claimant's claim or cause of action sounds in tort or contract. (emphasis added)

The Hospital's argument relied on the Texas Supreme Court's opinion in the Texas West Oaks Hospital, LP v. Williams case, which stated that claims against a health care provider or physician involving a departure from accepted standards of safety need not be directly related to the provision of health care. 371 S.W.3d 171 (Tex. 2012)

This Court opined that the claim in Williams, however, had an indirect relationship to health care. They determined that Williams does not encompass safety claims that are "completely untethered" from health care. Thus, although a direct relationship with health care is not required, an indirect relationship is. The Court concluded that there was nothing in Garcia's claim that had even an indirect relationship with health care and thus, her claim was completely untethered.

What to Take Away:

This case narrows the definition of what can be a health care liability claim by requiring that claims alleging departures from safety standards must show some sort of indirect relationship to health care. The mere fact that the injuries occurred at a hospital is insufficient to transform an ordinary negligence claim into a health care liability claim.

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