On February 21, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas (“Texas Supreme Court”) reversed a Texas medical malpractice jury’s verdict in the total amount of $2.7 million in a brachial plexus birth injury case, holding that Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 74.153’s standard of willful and wanton negligence applies to emergency medical care rendered to a patient in a hospital’s obstetrical unit, when the patient was not first attended to in a hospital’s emergency department.
In the case it was deciding, the defendant OBGYN was aware that the plaintiff, who was pregnant, was diabetic and recommended inducing labor to minimize possible complications with the birth. The plaintiffs accepted the recommendation and scheduled the elective induction.
During delivery, the defendant OB/GYN discovered that the baby’s shoulder was lodged against his mother’s pubic bone (shoulder dystocia). The defendant also observed the umbilical cord wraped around the baby’s neck (a nuchal cord). Understanding that shoulder dystocia and a nuchal cord can pose a threat to a baby’s life, the defendant worked quickly to deliver the baby, performing maneuvers to dislodge the shoulder. Nonetheless, the baby suffered a permanent brachial plexus injury.
The parents filed a health care liability claim against the OBGYN and his medical practice, alleging that the OBGYN failed to exercise ordinary care when delivering their baby and that his negligence proximately caused the baby’s brachial plexus injury. The defendant OBGYN argued that section 74.153’s standard of willful and wanton negligence applied in this case. At the close of evidence, the defendant OBGYN moved for a directed verdict, arguing that there was legally insufficient evidence of willful and wanton negligence as required under section 74.153 and of future medical expenses.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict and the Texas medical malpractice jury subsequently found in favor of the plaintiffs. The defendants appealed.
Texas Supreme Court Opinion
The Texas Supreme Court stated that section 74.153’s plain language extends to emergency medical care rendered in an obstetrical unit even if the patient was not first treated in an emergency department. The statute is unambiguous, so the consultation of extra-textual sources was not appropriate. Giving the statute’s words their customary meaning and deploying rules of grammar, section 74.153’s “‘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.” In other words, a patient need not be treated in an emergency department before receiving emergency care in an obstetrical unit in order to trigger the section 74.153 standard of willful and wanton negligence.
The Texas Supreme Court held: “In the present case, whether the jury should apply a standard of willful and wanton negligence was a critical issue—it went to the very question the jury was tasked with answering to decide liability. As [the defendant OBGYN’s] objection in the trial court demonstrates, the question was also contested. In addition, the issue of whether [the defendant] provided emergency care to [the plaintiff] was critical and contested—it was a prerequisite for applying the section 74.153 negligence standard, and the [plaintiffs] argue that [the defendant’s] care was not emergency care … Having found harmful error in the jury charge, we grant [the defendant OBGYN’s] petition for review and, without hearing oral argument, TEX.R.APP.P. 59.1, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand this case to the trial court for a new trial.”
Source Glenn v. Leal, No. 18-0344.
If you or a loved one have suffered serious harm as a result of a birth injury, such as a brachial plexus injury, in Texas or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Texas medical malpractice attorney, or a medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your birth injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice lawyers in your U.S. state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.