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Your Dallas Medical Malpractice Case: The Basics

The City of Dallas is fortunate to have so many medical facilities. It really adds to our quality of life. But even the most qualified and well-meaning of doctors occasionally makes mistakes. If you find yourself unsatisfied (or worse) after a visit to Baylor Dallas, Medical City, or another fine facility in The Metroplex, review this article on medical malpractice.

Finding the Law

You can find most of the laws related to malpractice suits, which are officially known as "health care liability claims," in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. These laws cover all suits of a medical nature, regardless of whether the suing party alleges a breach of contract or a form of negligence. You can find the laws clustered together in Title 4, Chapter 74, entitled Medical Liability.

Time Limit on Medical Malpractice Cases

In many states, there is a different time limit, called the statute of limitations, for medical malpractice cases. This is not the case in Texas. The general statute of limitations allows a plaintiff two years to file a claim, and the same applies when the defendant is a doctor, hospital, or other medical care provider.

Time Limits for Unknown or Undiscovered Injuries

In some cases, a patient may not immediately know that he/she has received sub-standard medical, and may not know that he/she has been injured. This can be the case when patient is misdiagnosed, receives the wrong medication or has a foreign object sewn up within him/her in the course of surgery. In these cases a two-year statute of limitations will have run without a patient even considering filing suit. For these situations, the state recognizes a "discovery rule" -- the SOL does not begin to run until a plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, the harm.

But the discovery rule has a limit in medical malpractice cases. Even if the discovery rule applies, a plaintiff must bring his/her case to court within 10 years of the medical act or omission that is the reason for the suit.

Notice of Filing Suit Required in Texas

Before you file a healthcare claim in Texas, you must give notice to each physician, care provider, or institution that will be a defendant in the case. The process has some technical requirements, so you may wish to consider talking to an attorney about getting some help. One requirement is that the notice be sent via certified mail at least 60 days prior filing. You'll also need to include the "AUTHORIZATION FORM FOR RELEASE OF PROTECTED HEALTH INFORMATION," as described in Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 74.052 (c).

The Standard of Care

Health care providers are responsible for meeting what is called the "standard of care" when helping a patient. In any medical malpractice or health care liability case, a plaintiff must establish: 1) that a care provider failed to provide service that meets the standard of care; and 2) that the failure caused the patient to suffer a harm. Successful plaintiffs typically show that that the medical professional did not display the skill as another similar professional in his/her position would be expected to display. Often, the best way of showing this is by having other professionals, who are experts in patient care, testify as to the degree of skill that professional is expected to have.

Expert Reports

As mentioned above, a common way of proving that a defendant did not meet the standard of care is by having one or more expert witnesses testify on the matter. In Texas, you have only 120 days after filing a claim to also provide the defendants with reports of the experts' opinions regarding: 1) the standard of care; 2) the health care provided; 3) how the provided care caused the injury; and 4) the damages owed.

In light of the two-year time limit for these types of cases, you may not have much time to waste. You may wish to enlist the help of an attorney who can assist with securing the necessary experts and reports for your case.

Limits on Damages When the Patient Survives

Generally, two types of damages are awarded in health care liability cases: economic damages and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages are awards intended to compensate for actual economic or monetary losses. Examples of this include the cost of future medical care to treat the mistake, lost wages, and other costs that an in injured person may incur as the result of the harm. The law places no limit on a plaintiff's ability to recover economic damages.

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are the awards intended to compensate a plaintiff for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other resulting hardships in life that do not easily translate into dollar figures. A plaintiff is limited in his/her recovery of noneconomic damages. In Texas, he or she may recover a maximum of $250,000 in noneconomic damages from physicians and healthcare providers, not including institutions such as hospitals (see Sec. 74.001(a)(12)). When a plaintiff sues a single healthcare institution, (see Sec.74.001 (a)(11)), noneconomic damages are also limited to $250,000. If a plaintiff sues multiple institutions, the maximum noneconomic damages award is $500,000. In sum, the most that a plaintiff may receive in noneconomic damages is $750,000.

Limits on Damages in a Wrongful Death Suit

In a wrongful death health care liability case, a defendant is liable for a maximum of $500,000 in total. This includes economic damages, noneconomic damages, and even exemplary damages which are designed to punish a defendant. This limit was set in 1977, and courts adjust the cap for inflation.

As can be seen from the discussion above, medical malpractice cases can be pretty complicated and may have some strict requirements, both as to procedure and time limits. If you believe you have a case, it may be a good idea to schedule a consultation with an attorney specializing in health care liability claims or medical malpractice. Many attorneys offer free consultations, also.

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