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What is Medical Malpractice Law in Texas

Texas medical malpractice laws and regulations govern the liability of physicians and other healthcare providers who injure a patient in the course of performing their services. Texas medical malpractice claims are governed mainly by Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (CPR). Medical malpractice in Texas is a legal action arising from an alleged breach of professional standards or negligence on the part of a healthcare provider such as a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional. The term “negligence" in the context of medical malpractice refers to a breach of the appropriate recognized standard of medical care perpetrated by the healthcare provider.

It is important to note that under state law, medical malpractice does not automatically apply to every incident of error or negligence by a healthcare provider. Similarly, not all injuries acquired after obtaining medical care constitute medical negligence. Although negligence is required for a medical malpractice case to have legal standing, its mere presence is insufficient to secure financial compensation for the injured party.

Instead, the patient who has been injured must also prove that medical negligence was the cause of their injury. Consequently, for a medical malpractice claim to be deemed viable in Texas, the plaintiff must present proof of four necessary components:

  • Duty: The defendant must be a healthcare practitioner who owes the injured patient a legal duty of care.
  • Breach of duty of care: A breach of this nature occurs when the healthcare professional's activities deviated from or fell below the required level of care, thereby breaking the legal responsibility of care that was owed.
  • Injury: The plaintiff must prove that the healthcare professional’s negligent actions were directly responsible for or contributed to their injury.
  • Damages: They must also prove that they suffered various losses or damages due to the injuries.

What are the Medical Malpractice Laws and Reform in Texas?

The first medical malpractice statutes in Texas were established in the 1970s. The state passed the Medical Liability and Insurance Improvement Act (MILIIA) in 1977. It was designed to address issues of medical malpractice and insurance that were plaguing the Texas healthcare system, and it was later incorporated into the Texas Revised Civil Statutes. 

Since then, these laws have been constantly evaluated and modified to ensure that they effectively serve the needs of Texas patients. Thus, in 2003, Texas established a Tort reform legislation (House Bill 4) that defined the whole category of healthcare liability actions. As a result, medical malpractice claims filed after 2003 are subject to Texas's new set of state malpractice laws, while the outdated legislation governs those filed before that year. The comprehensive Tort and litigation reform include the enforcement of specific thresholds for medical malpractice and healthcare liability claims, notably in terms of restrictions and caps on damages. 

Overall, the essential tenets of medical malpractice laws in Texas include:

  • Statute of Limitations: Section 74.251 of the CPR specifies the Texas statute of limitation for filing an action alleging medical malpractice. It states that medical malpractice cases must be filed within two years of the date of the negligent act or the date of the last relevant course of treatment.

    However, there are some exceptions to the norm. For example, the medical malpractice statute of limitations has a unique regulation for minors to follow when making a claim. Minors under the age of 12 have until their 14th birthday to file a claim or have someone else do it for them.

  • Statute of Repose: Like the statute of limitation, the statute of repose legislation also includes counting down to a deadline by which time a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed. If the deadline is not met, each party has the right to stop any further litigation of a matter, regardless of the substantive merits of the claim. The primary goal of the statute is to provide a definitive deadline for filing a suit. The legislation eliminates uncertainty under the linked statute of limitations and sets a definite deadline for filing a suit that is not subject to any exceptions. As a result, a claimant for health care liability has ten years from the date of the act or omission to make a claim.

  • Pre-suit notification: To prevent any legal complications in a medical malpractice lawsuit, plaintiffs are obligated to inform the healthcare provider, insurance company, or medical professional with advance notice of the impending litigation. This must be completed at least sixty days before the case is filed. The individual's responsibility is to send the notification by certified mail with a request for a return receipt. Depending on the number of parties interested in the case, the plaintiff may be required to send such notification more than once to multiple parties. 

  • The burden of proof and experts: In Texas medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proof since they must show both that a breach happened and that the violation was the direct cause of their injury. To establish a causal link between the defendant's medical negligence and the harm they suffered, the plaintiff must provide convincing testimony from a trained medical expert. The Texas Supreme Court declared that in cases of medical malpractice, the trial court and the jury must rely on the testimony of medical experts. 

    Hence, plaintiffs in a medical malpractice action are obliged by law to submit an expert report to the court and any other parties involved. An expert appointed for the case would produce a report containing important facts and their opinions on the issue. The trained expert's report must include sections on the appropriate standard of care, how each defendant failed to satisfy these standards, and the causative relationship with the injury. The deadline for filing this document is 120 days after the case was first filed.

  • Damages: Damages are monetary rewards given to the winning party as compensation for their injury. A medical malpractice claim will often result in the victim receiving a specified amount of damages. The amount is determined by the victim's malpractice attorney or an expert witness, based on the specifics of the victim's situation. These often take the form of economic damages that provide financial assistance for things like medical costs and lost income during the recuperation period. The victim’s pain and suffering, trauma, anguish, and emotional distress are included in non-economic damages. It is important to provide specific damages with enough evidence to back up the sum. In some cases, the court may provide the plaintiff with additional money to penalize the opposing party. They are called punitive damages, and they are awarded when medical negligence is motivated by malice or the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering.

  • Damage caps: Under Texas law, the amount of compensation that a plaintiff can seek in a medical negligence claim is restricted. The present legal norm limits the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded per claimant to $250,000. There is also a total cap of $500,000 in noneconomic damages for each claimant for claims against multiple health care institutions, and no one institution can be held liable for more than $250,000 in noneconomic damages per claimant.

FDA Regulations and Medical Malpractice in Texas

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency safeguards and promotes public health through regulating and supervising food safety, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, vaccines, medical devices, etc. A medical device is an instrument, machine, or other similar object used alone or in combination for a medical purpose.

The FDA's primary focus is the enforcement of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C), which provides the agency the ability to monitor the safety of food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and cosmetics. The law also requires that drugs be labeled with appropriate instructions for safe usage. Overall, the FDA ensures all pharmaceuticals and medical equipment sold in the United States pose no health risks.

Although the FDA has had little involvement in medical practice regulation or medical malpractice claims over the years, the agency's legal framework and physician compliance may be critical in medical malpractice proceedings. One of the most significant factors to consider in Texas medical malpractice lawsuits is whether or not the doctor behaved with the degree of skill and care that is typically accepted in the medical community. As a result, the relationship between the FDA regulatory process and the medication recommended by a physician may impact whether or not they were negligent.

A physician may be liable in a medical malpractice claim if they administer drugs for "off-label uses" and continue to do so while knowing that such usage is neither safe nor effective. This is especially true if other practitioners in the relevant medical field no longer use or have never used the medicine in that manner. Off-label uses occur when a drug is used for the treatment of a condition that it was not approved to treat. This use is common, especially in the treatment of cancer, pediatric conditions, and rare illnesses. According to the FDA, a doctor may prescribe an off-label medication when:

  • There are no FDA-approved medications to treat a person's condition.
  • The authorized drugs were ineffective for the individual.
  • The authorized drugs are either too costly or unavailable.
  • A patient is unable to use an FDA-approved medication due to adverse effects or potential interactions with other drugs
  • The doctor has evidence that a specific drug works well for off-label use.

Any other circumstance in which a patient was hurt due to off-label use may result in a healthcare liability claim. As long as the prescriptions do not meet the criteria for "research," medical professionals are allowed to prescribe approved drugs for off-label uses. When a doctor issues a research prescription, the purpose is to test medical methods, treatments, or devices and draw conclusions that may or may not benefit the patient. This is unethical since it puts the patient in danger. However, determining whether an off-label prescription was prescribed for research reasons is not always simple. 

The physician's intentions in prescribing an off-label usage are perhaps the most basic criteria for establishing whether or not an off-label use qualifies as experimental research. As a result, a physician may be held liable for medical malpractice if they go beyond what is considered acceptable in their field and harm a patient. Nonetheless, a physician may be able to avoid liability for off-label prescriptions if they prioritize their patient's interests and can provide convincing scientific and clinical facts supporting the off-label usage.

What is the Role of the Texas Medical Board (TMB)?

The Texas Medical Board (TMB) is the government entity ensuring the general public's well-being in terms of health, safety, and protection. The Board investigates citizen complaints against physicians, verifies that Texas physicians have the requisite abilities to practice medicine, and guarantees that only eligible persons are awarded licenses to practice medicine in Texas.

The Texas Medical Practice Act empowers the TMB to enforce state rules governing the practice of medicine. The board constitutes a total of 19 members, nine of whom are medical doctors, three of whom are osteopaths, and seven of whom are non-doctor members of the general public. The governor is in charge of appointing members to the board for six-year terms.

The board regulates the following health occupations in Texas:

  • Physicians
  • Medical assistants 
  • Surgical assistants
  • Acupuncturists
  • Medical Radiological Technologists
  • Respiratory Care Specialists 
  • Perfusionists.

Are you a victim of medical malpractice in need of the help of a qualified medical malpractice lawyer? You can find medical malpractice or personal injury lawyer by either searching online for keywords such as "medical malpractice attorney near me" or by visiting the state bar association website to find the contact information of qualified medical malpractice attorneys in Texas. You may also visit the lawyer referral websites of professional bar associations within your city or county or ask for referrals from family and friends.