In its opinion filed on December 21, 2018, the Supreme Court of Texas held that the Texas Medical Liability Act’s emergency-medical-care provision, which requires claimants asserting certain Texas medical malpractice claims to prove “wilful and wanton negligence,” applies to claims arising from emergency medical care provided in a hospital’s obstetrical unit regardless of whether the patient was first evaluated or treated in a hospital emergency department.
At the time of the delivery of the Texas medical malpractice plaintiffs’ baby, the baby had difficulty moving through the birth canal. The mother’s obstetrician used forceps to deliver the baby’s head, but the baby’s shoulder became stuck on his mother’s pelvis, a complication called shoulder dystocia. After other maneuvers failed, the obstetrician reached into the birth canal and physically pulled the baby’s arm across his chest, dislodging the baby’s shoulder. The baby was soon delivered, but he suffered injuries to the network of nerves that runs through his shoulder.
The defendant obstetrician argued that because the family’s claims arise from the provision of emergency medical care in a hospital obstetrical unit, they can only recover by proving that he acted with willful and wanton negligence. Section 74.153 requires a health-care-liability claimant to prove that the defendant physician or health care provider breached the applicable standard of care with willful and wanton negligence if the claim arises out of the provision of emergency medical care “in a hospital emergency department or obstetrical unit or in a surgical suite immediately following the evaluation or treatment of a patient in a hospital emergency department.” TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 74.153.
The Texas Supreme Court stated that the issue is whether the section’s last phrase (the “immediately following” phrase) applies to and modifies only the reference to care provided “in a surgical suite” or the references to care provided in all three locations.
The Texas Supreme Court held “[b]ecause the section is not ambiguous, we do not consider extrinsic aids and instead conclude based on the statute’s language that the “immediately following” phrase applies only to the reference to a surgical suite, and not to all three locations.” The Texas Supreme Court stated, “By repeating the use of “in a” before the third item in the series, the language requires the conclusion that the third item be treated differently … That is, the use of “in a” before “surgical suite” signifies that the modifying phrase “immediately following the evaluation or treatment of a patient in a hospital emergency department” applies only to “surgical suite.” It simply permits no other reasonable reading.”
The Texas Supreme Court further stated: “Although the family argues that not all care provided in an emergency department constitutes emergency medical care, their proposed construction would nevertheless deprive providers of the section’s heightened protection for medical care first provided in the emergency department that does constitute emergency medical care.”
The Texas Supreme Court held: “Section 74.153 is certainly not a model of clarity, particularly in light of its lack of any helpful punctuation. But its repeated use and placement of the prepositional phrase “in a” and the repeated references to treatment provided “in a hospital emergency department” lead us to conclude that the family’s proposed construction is simply not reasonable. As a result, we hold that the statute is not ambiguous and that the “immediately following” phrase modifies the reference to care provided in a surgical suite but not the references to care provided in a hospital emergency department or obstetrical unit … we conclude that section 74.153 requires claimants to prove willful and wanton negligence when their claims arise out of the provision of emergency medical care in a hospital obstetrical unit, regardless of whether that care is provided immediately following an evaluation or treatment in the hospital’s emergency department.”
Source Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Denton, Marc Wilson, M.D., and Alliance OB/GYN Specialists, PLLC D/B/A OB/GYN Specialists, PLLC v. D.A. and M.A., Individually and as Next Friends of A.A., a minor, No. 17-0256.
If you or your baby suffered a birth injury (or worse) during labor and/or delivery in Texas or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Texas birth injury lawyer, or a birth injury lawyer in your state, who may investigate your birth injury claim for you and represent you and your child in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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