The Supreme Court of Texas (“Texas Supreme Court”), in its opinion dated May 8, 2020, discussed the proper method of applying the required statutory reductions of a Texas medical malpractice jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff where some of the defendants settled before trial and the jury found the remaining defendant to be more than 50% responsible for the plaintiff’s damages.
The Texas medical malpractice plaintiff settled with all defendants, other than the defendant nursing home, for a total of $1,850,000. The defendant nursing home elected a dollar-for-dollar settlement credit. At the conclusion of trial, the jury found that the defendant nursing home and each of the settling defendants were negligent and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury, and it apportioned 55% responsibility for the injury to the defendant nursing home. The jury awarded economic damages of $3 million for future medical expenses, $390,000 for past medical expenses, and $245,000 for loss of household services. It also awarded $10,250,000 in noneconomic damages.
Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code instructs trial courts how to determine a claimant’s recovery as well as a defendant’s liability in cases involving findings of proportionate responsibility, including cases in which some parties have settled. The Texas Supreme Court stated that a claimant’s recovery and a defendant’s liability are distinct concepts, and each must be calculated and applied separately.
The Texas Medical Liability Act (“TMLA”) provides that when judgment is rendered against a single health care institution, “the limit of civil liability for noneconomic damages of the [defendant] shall be limited to an amount not to exceed $250,000 for each claimant.”
In applying the dollar-for-dollar settlement credit, the trial court calculated the percentages of economic versus noneconomic damages awarded by the jury and allocated the credit using those percentages, subtracting 27% of the credit from the economic damages and 73% from the noneconomic damages. The court then further reduced the noneconomic damages to $250,000 as required by the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA), leaving a total judgment of $3,399,371.
Before the Texas Supreme Court, the defendant nursing home argued that the trial court should have applied the settlement credit after determining the capped noneconomic damages, contending that the trial court erred because the applicable statutes required it to apply the $1.85 million settlement credit after capping the noneconomic damages (the defendant nursing home argued that under section 33.012, the amount received in settlement must reduce the “damages to be recovered,” not the damages awarded by the jury).
The Texas Supreme Court stated that one statute controls the claimant’s recovery while a different one governs the defendant’s liability: the “damages to be recovered by the claimant”—the amount of damages found by the jury minus any settlement credits—are independent of a defendant health care institution’s “limit of civil liability for noneconomic damages” under the TMLA. The Texas Supreme Court held that because the defendant nursing home’s liability for noneconomic damages is limited to $250,000 under section 74.301(b), and that figure does not exceed the amount that the plaintiff may recover under section 33.012, “no further credit is required.” The Texas Supreme Court explained that this method of calculation does not run afoul of the one satisfaction rule because when the “damages to be recovered” are reduced by the amount of a settlement, as they were here, a claimant does not obtain “more than one recovery for the same injury.”
Source Regent Care of San Antonio, L.P. v. Detrick, No. 19-0117.
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