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Medical Negligence

In Texas, medical negligence is often used interchangeably with "medical malpractice" to describe healthcare liability proceedings. But more specifically, medical negligence is the legal basis for a certain type of medical malpractice lawsuit. Negligence refers to a person's failure to perform an action with the necessary degree of caution. As such, medical negligence occurs when a health care provider's actions or inactions cause unintended and unintentional harm to a patient.

A medical negligence claim is a legal action filed by a patient who has been harmed by a medical practitioner or facility (or both). The lawsuit is filed in court to demand compensation for negligent acts committed during their medical care. Texas allows healthcare providers to be held liable in medical negligence cases, including healthcare institutions and practitioners. Under state law, a person, partnership, professional organization, business, facility, or institution is considered a health care provider if they hold a valid license, certification, registration, or charter from the Texas Medical Board to perform health care. Healthcare practitioners in Texas may include dentists, registered nurses, pharmacists, and physicians, among others. Health care institutions may also include:

  • Hospitals 
  • Residential care centers and nursing homes
  • Emergency medical services (EMS)
  • Hospice facilities
  • Services and accommodations for people with intellectual disabilities
  • Dialysis centers, etc.

What Constitutes Medical Negligence in Texas?

Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare provider deviates from their profession's care standards, causing harm or death to the patient. Injured parties may file medical negligence lawsuits to obtain compensation for their injuries. Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (CPR) governs healthcare liability claims in Texas. According to these codes, a medical negligence claim must prove the existence of these elements to be deemed viable under state law: 

  • Duty: The claim must establish the medical professional’s duty of care to the patient. All healthcare providers owe a special duty of care to patients. The specifics of this commitment are dictated by their specific jobs and the types of treatment they provided.

  • Deviation from the standard of care: Once a medical practitioner and their patient have a relationship, a standard of care is formed. The state of Texas defines "standard of care" as the actions that a reasonable physician or other healthcare practitioners would have performed in the same circumstances. 

    Hence, if a healthcare provider fails to treat their patients with the same degree of expertise and diligence that other similarly competent professionals would under comparable circumstances, they are straying from the anticipated standards of care. This is true whether the caregiver treats the patient directly or indirectly through a third party. Making an inaccurate diagnosis and improperly interpreting test data are typical examples of such deviations.

  • Damages: The third component of any viable medical negligence lawsuit is proof that the healthcare professional's actions or omissions caused harm to the patient, including injury or death. Common damages for medical negligence include medical care expense, a reduction in one's capacity to enjoy life, social connection or familial support, and lost income and future earning potential. The monetary compensation from a successful medical negligence lawsuit supports persons who have suffered injuries due to medical negligence.

  • Proximate or direct cause: Proximate cause is legally recognized as the primary cause of damage. According to the Texas Supreme Court, proximate cause constitutes cause-in-fact and foreseeability. Cause-in-fact indicates that the negligent act caused harm to the patient. It also means that the injured person would not have suffered harm if the medical professional had not acted in the manner that they.

    On the other hand, foreseeability refers to the defendant's ability to predict the harm caused by their negligent behavior to others. This implies that a reasonable person would have anticipated the danger their action posed to the other party.

    Individuals who have been harmed must ultimately establish that the medical negligence was the direct cause of whatever damages or harm they suffered. In some cases, determining a direct or proximate cause is straightforward. Other times, establishing a relationship may be more tedious.

What Qualifies as Medical Negligence?

In addition to the previously discussed components, a medical negligence claim requires additional qualifiers. A provider-patient relationship must be established before a health care practitioner is considered to have a duty of care to a person. It is impossible to sue a healthcare practitioner for breaching their duty of care without first establishing a duty of care.

For example, physicians who shop at a mall do not have a responsibility to other patrons who may be suffering from medical concerns unless the physicians actively offer their services. As a result, whenever a physician provides medical treatment, they develop a relationship with their patients and have a special duty of care.

What are the Types of Medical Negligence?

Although each case is unique, common types of medical negligence include:

  • Misdiagnosis: Misdiagnosis happens when a patient is given an incorrect diagnosis or no diagnosis. A misdiagnosis can jeopardize a patient's life by prompting them to take potentially dangerous medications or keeping them from getting necessary treatment for an illness or injury. A misdiagnosis can severely aggravate a patient's condition.

  • Hospital-Acquired Infections: Another possible basis for a medical negligence lawsuit is the development of a new infection while being treated for another ailment. A new infection might result from a surgical error or hospital negligence, complicating the patient's recovery. In Texas hospitals, around 4% of patients get an infection during their stay. This might cause issues with pre-existing ailments, the emergence of new diseases, or even death in extreme circumstances.

  • Medication errors: These include prescribing the wrong medication and giving a patient medicine that had substances that caused an unpleasant reaction. In some cases, the prescription is legitimate, but the doctor prescribes a large dose, or the doctor fails to educate the patient about how the medicine interacts with other drugs in their system. Any of these factors is likely to negatively influence a patient's health.

  • Surgical mistakes: Surgery errors and blunders arise in many medical negligence lawsuits due to the large number of specialists involved in the surgery. To ensure a seamless recovery, the anesthesiologists, surgeons, and nurses must all collaborate, and any one of them might make a mistake that slows the procedure down. Common surgical errors include leaving surgical tools in a patient’s body, Anesthesia errors (which causes the patient to wake up in the middle of the procedure), unclean instruments, or operating on the wrong part of the body.

Medical Malpractice vs. Medical Negligence?

Medical malpractice is distinguished from medical negligence by intent. In this case, "intent" does not refer to the purpose of doing damage; instead, it relates to the health care practitioner's mental state at the time of the action or omission. As such, while medical negligence refers to a mistake in a patient's treatment that causes unintentional damage or bodily harm, medical malpractice refers to cases in which a medical professional deliberately disregards the required standard of care and causes harm and bodily injury to a patient.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the healthcare professional was aware that they should have taken action to treat the patient but chose not to do so despite being aware that their inaction may endanger the patient. The act was not malicious in the sense that they planned to hurt the patient, but it was intentional that the professional was aware that their actions or inactions might injure the patient. In contrast, no intent is required to prove medical negligence. Medical negligence happens when a medical professional makes a mistake that causes harm to the patient. Because the medical provider did not act with the intent to injure the patient or with the knowledge that the patient would be harmed as a result of the action, the behavior or omission in question does not qualify as medical malpractice, although being clearly negligent. As such, the charge of medical malpractice is significantly more severe than the charge of medical negligence.

It is important to note that only an expert medical malpractice attorney can assess a case based on the facts and determine if a medical malpractice lawsuit is warranted or whether a medical negligence lawsuit would be preferred given the facts in a case. It is essential to hire a medical lawyer who understands the distinction between medical malpractice and medical negligence. If the attorney is unfamiliar with the difference between these two legal theories and the various components present in each claim, the case may be lost or the amount of compensation may be reduced.

What's the Difference Between Negligence and Malpractice in Nursing?

A nurse's primary responsibility is to provide care and address their patients' medical problems. They keep track of the patients' progress, which aids in their recovery. Nursing negligence occurs when nurses fail to provide a reasonable standard of care and cause harm to their patients.

In Texas, nursing negligence can happen in two ways: failing to perform a vital nursing responsibility or inefficiently performing a task. On the other hand, nursing malpractice is when a nurse willfully and deliberately fails to provide the appropriate level of care for a patient, causing harm.

How Long Will a Medical Negligence Case Take?

A typical medical negligence lawsuit in Texas can last 18 to 24 months, or more if the other party files an appeal. Due to the rigorous restrictions on the eligibility of witnesses and evidence, the timeline for medical negligence claims is generally difficult to predict. As a result, they do not often settle or resolve without a significant commitment of time and resources. The length of time it takes to resolve a medical negligence case is primarily determined by several factors, including the legitimacy of the claim, the statute of limitations and repose, the extent of the victim's injuries, and whether or not the defendant admits responsibility.

There are several phases, deadlines, and criteria that litigants must follow to successfully resolve a medical negligence case in Texas. If the plaintiffs do not meet these deadlines or requirements, their case may be dismissed. It is critical to hire a medical negligence attorney who will meticulously follow all of the requirements for filing a complaint promptly. Phases of a medical negligence lawsuit that significantly influence the timeline include:

  • Determining the validity of the claim: An extensive investigation or evaluation of medical evidence is required to demonstrate the legitimacy of a medical negligence claim in Texas. Requesting and evaluating all medical documentation and invoices associated with the alleged medical negligence is necessary to assess whether or not a legitimate claim exists. Completing this stage alone might take months. Suppose the medical negligence attorney believes that the potential plaintiff has a viable claim. In that case, the lawyer will seek the aid of a medical expert, who will use their knowledge and experience to demonstrate the defendant's negligence on the prospective plaintiff's behalf. 

  • Pre-suit notice requirements: Before filing a medical negligence lawsuit in Texas civil court, state law requires the prospective plaintiff (usually through a medical negligence lawyer) to send written notice of the claim to each health care provider listed in the lawsuit at least 60 days before the case is filed. In addition, the injured party must complete and sign an authorization form that accompanies the notice. The authorization form requests medical history information about the claimant and authorizes the physician or healthcare provider to get relevant medical records and investigate the patient's claims.

    If a claimant fails to provide the notice, the court may dismiss the proceeding until such notice is provided. The notification must be sent by certified mail with a return receipt request. 

  • Expert opinion requirements: Once the defendant's healthcare provider has been notified of the case and has submitted an answer to the complaint, the claimant (the person who was hurt) has 120 days to give an expert report at the court's request. According to the 2003 Medical Liability Act, plaintiffs in health care liability claims must provide an expert report within 120 days of the defendant submitting an answer to the action. 

    The court expects this report to demonstrate that the plaintiff has sufficient evidence to back up their medical negligence claim. As such, it must provide the following information: 

    • The expert's view of the relevant standard of care 
    • How the defendant failed to achieve that standard
    • The causal link between the negligent action and the plaintiff's injury.

If the court does not receive the expert report within the 120-day deadline, the case may be dismissed "with prejudice." This means the plaintiff will not be able to file the claim again.

  • Discovery: Discovery is a process that enables disclosure between the parties engaged in a legal proceeding. It allows all parties to be informed of what to expect throughout the trial. It involves each party investigating the other party’s legal claims and defenses. They ask each other questions (also called interrogatories), demand documents, and take depositions of all key parties and witnesses in the case. If one or both parties are dissatisfied with the materials supplied in response to the interrogatories and document requests, they may file motions to compel additional responses. This can happen numerous times throughout a medical negligence lawsuit, eventually extending the time it takes to resolve the case. Depending on the complexity of the case and court-imposed deadlines, the discovery process could take up to a year to complete.

  • Settlement and trial: After the discovery portion of the lawsuit is completed, the attorneys may begin negotiating potential settlements. In some cases, the attorneys can fix the dispute just by conversing with one another, but, in other cases, they may turn to mediation. Mediation is a procedure in which a skilled mediator or facilitator allows each party in a conflict to express their perspective, evaluate several options, and find an amicable conclusion. The mediator has no authority to resolve the disagreement, takes no sides, and makes no suggestions. Rather, they help the parties exchange information and identify solutions.

    Although mediation is often effective, the case may proceed to trial if the parties involved cannot reach an agreement. But if a medical negligence lawsuit goes to trial, the dispute may take substantially longer to resolve.

  • Appeal: After a trial, the party that finally loses the medical negligence lawsuit may file an appeal to challenge the court's decision. An appeal allows a higher court to reconsider a lower court's decision. An appeal significantly impacts the timeline of a medical negligence claim because an appellate court's judgment may be issued in as little as one month or as long as a year.

How Much Compensation Can You Claim for Medical Negligence?

Texas imposes a cap on the amount of money that a plaintiff can be awarded compensation for non-economic damages in medical negligence claims. Non-economic damages are non-monetary losses experienced by the claimant. They may include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. Non-economic losses are difficult to quantify since they vary from one plaintiff to the next and cannot be easily defined.

This limit is specified in the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003, also known as House Bill 4. According to the act, victims may seek the full amount of economic damages through judicial action. Economic damages are monetary losses suffered by the claimant, such as past and future medical expenditures, loss of wages, or loss of work or business opportunities. On the other hand, the amount awarded for non-economic damages is limited to $250,000 per claimant. There is also a $500,000 limit on total non-economic damages that can be awarded to a single claimant in cases involving several health care providers.

Punitive damages

In some medical negligence cases, the court can decide whether the liable party should face further punishment in punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish negligent entities when the defendant's actions constitute fraud, malice, or gross negligence. As a result, punitive damages are never awarded on their own; they are awarded in addition to economic and non-economic damages.

The amount of punitive damages imposed is also limited under Texas law. Punitive damages cannot exceed $200,000, or twice the amount awarded for economic damages PLUS the amount awarded for non-economic damages.

How Far Back Can You Claim Medical Negligence?

Texas limits the period an injured person can file a medical negligence claim and seek compensation. This is referred to as the statute of limitations. In general, a victim has two years from the date of the negligent act or omission to file a lawsuit. However, if the patient must complete a course of treatment, they have two years from the day treatment is completed to file their claim. Any delay may result in the lawsuit being dismissed in court.

If the injury caused by medical negligence is not immediately apparent, plaintiffs have up to 10 years to file a claim. This is the Statute of repose (Sections 16.008 and 16.009 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code). A claim cannot be filed if the injury is not detected within 10 years of the incidence.

It is important to note that there are exceptions to the Texas statute of limitations. For instance, if a government employee is negligent and causes a person harm, the injured individual has even less time to initiate a claim. In this case, the injured party must notify the government of their claim within six months of the incident to preserve their right to sue. Because the government runs many hospitals and clinics, an injured patient must act promptly. Failure to provide appropriate and timely notice may result in the dismissal of a case. 

Can I Sue My Doctor for not Helping Me?

Whether an individual may sue a doctor for not helping is dependent on whether the doctor's refusal to help can be justified in court as negligent behavior. Generally, it is illegal for a physician to reject patients' services because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Furthermore, the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires that hospitals recognized by Medicare provide emergency medical treatment to anybody in need, regardless of whether or not the individual has health insurance coverage.

According to EMTALA, an emergency medical condition occurs suddenly and is accompanied by acute symptoms such as severe pain, psychological disorder, or substance abuse symptoms. Ailments in which the absence of emergency care might jeopardize the individual's (or an unborn child's) health and cause considerable damage or impairment of bodily parts and functions are also considered emergency medical conditions. 

However, EMTALA does not apply to all types of healthcare providers. The legislation does not apply to private medical offices, laboratories outside hospitals, or specialty healthcare facilities that do not have emergency departments. Additionally, private physicians are exempt from EMTALA rules. Therefore, they can dismiss a patient at any moment for practically any reason other than discrimination and without fear of legal implications. Because private practitioners of medicine are essentially small business owners, they are not compelled to provide medical treatment to patients who cannot afford their services. However, if a private medical practitioner is negligent and causes injury to their patient, they can be sued for compensation.

Overall, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no one can be denied treatment because of their age, gender, race, religion, or national origin. Hence, any individual who was wrongfully denied emergency care or was discharged from the hospital before the condition was stabilized may seek monetary compensation for their injuries. Suppose a physician fails to perform their duty of care to a patient and conducts negligent acts in regard to the patient's diagnosis or treatment. In that case, they may be liable for any resulting damages. 

Is it Hard to Prove Medical Negligence?

Healthcare liability cases, including medical negligence lawsuits, are generally more challenging to resolve than many personal injury lawsuits. Medical practitioners are held to a higher standard of care than the general public and other professions. In some cases, the negligence is evident and easy to demonstrate; it may be difficult to prove in others. Overall, a plaintiff can argue that the defendant was negligent if they can show that the healthcare professional did not respond as another physician would in a comparable situation.

Medical negligence might be difficult to prove due to differences in standards, legal costs, and the intricacies and unfamiliarity of the facts. It may also be difficult to find medical experts willing to testify against other professionals. It is imperative to hire a Texas medical negligence attorney capable of providing legal guidance on how to proceed. They will also give the best representation possible when dealing with large hospitals or medical firms.

What are Defense Strategies in Texas Medical Negligence Case?

Medical negligence lawsuits may be exceedingly difficult for healthcare providers, especially if the claims are incorrect. Not all medical problems are caused by medical errors or negligence. In some circumstances, what a patient believes to be a medical error is an unavoidable series of events.

Working with skilled medical malpractice lawyer to develop the best defense strategies is essential. Some of these defense strategies include:

  • Challenge the expert opinion: The defense may claim that the plaintiff's expert is ineligible to provide an expert opinion on a particular issue. They may also claim that the expert's view is not sufficiently founded in established scientific principles to be regarded as reliable. If the defense can persuade the court that the plaintiff's expert lacks the appropriate credentials or that the expert's evidence cannot be trusted, the expert will be barred from testifying. This verdict can often prohibit the plaintiff from advancing their case in court.

  • Assumption of the risk: Patients who consent to medical treatment and are aware of the risks assume partial responsibility for the treatment decisions. They do not have the right to hold their doctors accountable when unanticipated effects arise.

  • Comparative negligence : According to Texas law, a patient's right to seek financial compensation is null and void if it is proven that the patient was at least 51 percent responsible for their injury. If a defendant can show that the injury would not have happened if the patient had not been negligent or reckless, the healthcare professional may have a viable defense against a medical negligence claim. For example, if a patient mixed medications not recommended by the doctor or failed to provide important medical history information, the doctor may not be held accountable for the injury.

  • Challenge the causal relationship: The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the defendant's actions harmed them. The defendant may contest the causal relationship between the claimant's injuries and the negligent treatment.

  • Pre-trial resolution: It is usually preferable to avoid trials because they are time and money intensive. As a result, defendants may try to find quick pre-trial settlement solutions that preserve each party's privacy and resources. It lessens the financial costs of dealing with the claim and the risk of significant reputational damage.

If you or your family member have suffered injuries resulting from medical negligence, it is important to hire a  lawyer with decades of experience in handling medical negligence cases and negotiating settlements on behalf of clients. Such an attorney will assist you in recovery, while also ensuring that you obtain fair compensation for your loss or injury. To speak to a medical negligence lawyer in Texas, you may either search online for terms such as "medical negligence attorneys near me" or visit the state bar association website to find the contact information of qualified medical attorneys in the state. You may also use the lawyer referral services of professional bar associations within your area or ask for referrals from family and friends who have hired medical malpractice attorneys in the past.