Medical malpractice is a notoriously complex area of law. The combination of legal and medical issues in medical malpractice cases pose some unique complexities. For example, the plaintiff (the person injured, or a legal representative) must follow certain rules and procedures that are unique to medical malpractice cases. Another example of the complex nature of medical malpractice law is the fact that every state has different laws and procedures for managing these claims. In this article, we will explore medical malpractice laws in Texas, including procedures, filing deadlines, and damage caps.
Texas Medical Malpractice Laws
In Texas, medical malpractice laws began in the 1970’s. In 1977, Texas lawmakers passed the Medical Liability and Insurance Improvement Act (MLIIA) – a set of laws designed to address insurance and malpractice issues within the healthcare system. The MLIIA was subsequently codified as part of the Texas Revised Civil Statutes. In 2003, the MLIIA was further clarified before being revised and re-codified as part of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
Under Texas law, any healthcare provider can be sued for medical malpractice if he or she has acted negligently causing harm to a patient. The definition of a healthcare provider is quite broad, and may include anyone who is “licensed, certified, registered, or chartered by the State of Texas to provide healthcare”. That means that various levels of healthcare providers may be included under the law, including nurses, doctors, specialists, surgeons, dentists, caregivers, and pharmacists.
Liability and the Burden of Proof
Liability is one of the most important elements of medical malpractice law. In Texas, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the healthcare provider (defendant) is liable for the injuries and losses sustained. To do this, the plaintiff, and his or her attorney, must complete an expert report establishing the following elements:
When a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed, this expert report must be served on any named defendants within 120 days of the filing.
Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Another important element of medical malpractice laws in Texas is the statute of limitations. Texas law section 74.251 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code mandates that medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within two years of the injury occurring, or the injury being discovered. Once the two year statute of limitations has run out, plaintiffs may no longer be able to take legal action or pursue recovery.
There are some exceptions to the two year rule, however these are few and far between. Some lawsuits filed under the Texas Tort Claims Act only allow a one year period in which to file a lawsuit. Cases involving plaintiffs under age 12 have until their 14th birthday to file a claim, or have a claim filed on their behalf.
Damage Caps for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Damages refers to the financial compensation awarded in lawsuits through a verdict or settlement. Damages compensate you for financial losses that are both economic and non-economic. Like many other states, Texas has placed legislative caps on the amount of damages a plaintiff can pursue from a defendant.
Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages are losses that cannot be as easily quantified by invoices or insurance claims. Some examples of non-economic damages include:
Texas law includes a cap on non-economic damages of $500,000 per plaintiff (Texas Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code section 74.301). This cap includes a cap of $250,000 per plaintiff in cases involving a single physician or single healthcare provider. Cases against multiple defendants fall into the cap of $500,000, with no single defendant being responsible for more than $250,000 on their own.
Economic Damages: Economic damages are losses that can be quantified in economic terms. Some examples of economic damages include:
The amount of economic damages you can pursue in a medical malpractice lawsuit will be unique to your case. Every case is different, with different injuries, losses, and variables.
As noted previously, medical malpractice lawsuits are complex and must follow certain Texas laws and procedures. The best way to find out if you have a claim and what type of damages you may be able to pursue is to contact a medical malpractice lawyer in your area.