Medical malpractice laws are at least a little bit different in every state. In Texas, the laws are particularly restrictive, severely limiting when and how patients and their families can be compensated for injuries caused by hospitals’ negligence. These sorts of limits undermine the very reasons for having a civil justice system-making wronged parties whole and deterring bad acts. Now it appears that the Texas hospital that failed to diagnose the first American case of Ebola will get away with its serious medical error.
Difficulties in Suing Over Missed Ebola Diagnosis
Reuters reports that Texas’ so-called “tort reform” laws have made it one of the most difficult places in the entire United States to recover after being the victim of a medical error. This is particularly true when the medical error causing the injury takes place in an emergency room. An emergency room error is what happened in the Ebola case. The original Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, visited Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s emergency room, and told a nurse he had just returned from Liberia. Liberia is one of the countries seriously hit with the current African Ebola crisis. Despite Mr. Duncan’s telling a nurse about his travels, and the nurse’s documenting the travel, Mr. Duncan was simply sent home with antibiotics. He was not admitted to a hospital for treatment until three days later.
The problem is that under Texas law, to bring a medical malpractice suit over an emergency room error, a plaintiff has to show that the medical staff was “willfully and wantonly negligent,” which is almost impossible to prove. Essentially the plaintiff would have to show in this case that the emergency room staff intentionally or consciously put Mr. Duncan and/or others at extreme risk by releasing him. The fact that it was a massive mistake that no one with medical training should make is not enough under Texas law. The fact that the Centers for Disease Control had already issued alerts warning healthcare practitioners about the risk factors for Ebola clear back in August likely will not be enough to overcome the unconscionably high burden in Texas law.
Even if a Recovery Were Possible, it Would be Limited
NBC News reports that the limitations on medical malpractice claims in Texas do not end there. There are also severe caps on non-economic damages in this type of suit. Where a patient sues a hospital for pain and suffering (an extraordinary amount of which comes along with untreated Ebola) the allowed damages are limited to only $250,000. This is regardless of what a jury or judge decides is an appropriate amount to compensate a victim-the Texas legislature has take that traditional role of jurors away from them and put limits in place that in no way take into account the facts of an individual case. What all of this means is that the hospital and medical professionals who botched the Ebola situation will not be held accountable for their actions, all because the Texas legislature decided “tort reform” was worth passing.
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