Medical Malpractice

Your ability to sue for medical malpractice depends in part on what state you live in. State laws can vary significantly. Sometimes it's not lawmakers who determine a state's malpractice laws, but the voters.

Texas voters approved a 2003 measure that limited the damages that health care providers could be required to pay. Among other reforms benefitting health care providers, the Texas Medical Liability Act placed a two-year statute of limitations on malpractice suits.

One Texas woman's long battle through the state's justice system ended this month with a unanimous ruling by the Texas Supreme Court. The justices denied her compensation for a strange series of events surrounding her husband's 2004 death in a Houston area hospital.

Kidney Stones Led to Death, Heart Removal

The man was hospitalized with kidney stones, and, for reasons never determined, he died there. His wife asked for an independent autopsy, suspecting that medication administered to him may have caused his death. Unbeknownst to her, the autopsy was conducted at another hospital under the same ownership. Further, no toxicology tests were done. The autopsy was inconclusive.

In a bizarre twist, the man's heart was removed during the autopsy without the widow's permission. After the widow was granted permission to have the heart examined, a forensic biologist found no human DNA in it, and said there was a "real possibility that the heart submitted was not human."

Three years after the autopsy, the widow sued the hospital for fraud, claiming she'd been misled about the independence and scope of the autopsy. The jury awarded her $2 million.

Court Overturns $2 Million Judgment

The hospital's owner, Christus Health, appealed the case to the state's high court. It argued that autopsies fell under the umbrella of medical care. Therefore, the plaintiff had exceeded the two-year statute of limitations for bringing a suit.

The case before the justices centered on whether autopsies are health care and therefore subject to the same rules as malpractice claims. The court ruled that the law was broad enough for that to be the case, and that "the post-mortem fraud claim is a health care liability claim."

If you suspect a health care professional and/or facility of medical error of wrongdoing that contributed to injury or death, it's essential to seek legal advice immediately from an experienced medical malpractice attorney.