Houston, TX – There is a typical timeline for a medical malpractice lawsuit that starts from the time a procedure is scheduled and performed until the resolution of the case through the legal process with a settlement or a trial verdict. Victims will usually schedule time with the doctor, have the procedure completed, then notice problems at some point afterward. Some mistakes may not be discovered immediately, but they can still result in legal action as long as the case is filed within the statute of limitations.
Victims can seek legal help from a lawyer who is licensed in Texas and has a focus on medical malpractice lawsuits. They will go over all of the important aspects of the incident with the victim, and then file an initial pleading and other required documents to start the case if there is an agreement on representation. The lawyer’s focus on this area of the law is of particular importance, as medical malpractice cases have special filing requirements beyond standard negligence cases, and often require detailed explanations and understandings of various complex medical issues from experts.
How a medical mistake typically happens
Many people schedule routine procedures or more complex surgeries with a doctor that they can trust. Regardless of the specific type of procedure that was performed, including delivering a child, all healthcare professionals are held to a certain standard of care, and they should not make mistakes that result in various kinds of injuries and complications to the patient. There are various oversights that can occur in a hospital or during surgeries such as administering incorrect medications, performing the wrong procedure on the patient, or an error that results in additional medical issues which require correction. Because doctors are licensed professionals who are trusted with sensitive matters of health that can change a person’s life, most mistakes that result in injuries are legally actionable through the state’s medical malpractice laws.
Like most other states in the country, Texas requires certain things to be done at the beginning of a medical malpractice lawsuit in order for the case to begin. Some of these requirements are essentially procedural safeguards meant to show that there are legitimate reasons to believe that a healthcare provider or professional caused harm. Others are necessary due to privacy laws surrounding healthcare records.
The plaintiff’s lawyer needs to file a notice of claim to each healthcare professional or entity that will be named in the lawsuit 60 days before the case is actually brought. This documentation also stops the statute of limitations from running for 75 days. In some instances, the notice of claim has allowed the parties to come to a settlement agreement early in the process without formally bringing the case through the court system.
Healthcare records are confidential and subject to various privacy regulations, which means that they cannot be accessed, even if there is pending litigation. To solve this problem, a plaintiff needs to complete an authorization form for release of protected healthcare information according to the statutory requirements. This will allow the defendants named in the lawsuits to begin to look through records that will be relevant to the case.
Another important requirement is the expert report in the early stages of the case. After the initial pleading to start the lawsuit is filed, defendants will file their answer to the allegations in this complaint, as in all civil cases. However, after the plaintiff receives the answer to the complaint, they must also serve the defendant with an expert report within 120 days. This report essentially contains an outline of the case as viewed by a person who the plaintiff may use as an expert during the litigation. The report lists the doctor or healthcare professional’s background and experience, their explanation of the relevant standard of care for the procedure in question, specific information about how the defendant failed to meet this standard of care, causation between the deviation from the standard of care and the plaintiff’s injuries, and particular losses and damages that resulted from these mistakes. This document basically follows the four standard elements of negligence for all civil cases, which include a relevant duty of care, a breach of that same duty, causation, and damages.
If the plaintiff does not file this expert report within the required timeframe, the case may be dismissed altogether. If the defendant receives the report and has any issues, they can file objections within 21 days of receiving a copy.
The relevant statute of limitations
An injury may not be discovered until quite some time after the procedure is finished. This is why the statute of limitations in Texas is important for all medical malpractice cases, as victims have a limited amount of time to take legal action, otherwise they cannot win their case if too much time has elapsed since the injury happened.
This time limit generally stands at two years for malpractice cases. The statute says that this time limit starts from the time that the injury actually occurred, or when a course of treatment that resulted in the injury is finished.
In addition to this general statute of limitations for malpractice cases, there is a statute of repose. This sets an absolute time limit of 10 years to bring a medical malpractice case, regardless of when the injury occurred or was discovered. This is an attempt to limit liability and prevent plaintiffs from bringing cases that are very old and less likely to succeed due to a lack of available evidence after a long timespan.
One other nuance exists in these time limitations if a young child was the victim of malpractice. Any plaintiff who was under the age of 12 when their injury occurred must bring their lawsuit for medical malpractice before the plaintiff’s 14th birthday.
Victims of any kind of civil negligence are able to receive financial compensation as their main remedy. These include economic damages for losses that the plaintiff can show through things like medical bills and records, lost wages and income, additional treatment costs, and other expenses incurred because of the defendant’s actions. Non-economic damages are related to the victim’s reduced quality of life, trauma, emotional condition, and continued pain. In some cases where the defendant engaged in malicious conduct, the plaintiff may also be able to recover punitive damages that are meant to punish this kind of behavior as much as compensate the victim. The most serious injuries can result in large damage awards if the victim will not be able to live a normal life after the doctor’s mistake.
Texas has a limitation on non-economic damages when the case is against a doctor or healthcare provider. These limitations are set at $250,000 per each individual making a claim against a healthcare company, or $500,000 in total if multiple healthcare providers are named in the lawsuit. This is sometimes referred to as a cap on damages for pain and suffering.
For cases that result in fatal injuries, there is also a damage cap. This limit was set at $500,000 when the statute was passed in 1977, but adjustment for inflation was allowed. Legal advice is necessary to receive more specific information about damages available for a fatal malpractice case in Texas, but this amount adjusted for inflation has reached greater than $1 million.
Scheduling a meeting to learn more
Medical malpractice is one of the most complex areas of the law, and these various requirements demonstrate the level of involvement and depth in a standard malpractice lawsuit in Texas. For these reasons, it is recommended that anyone who thinks they may need to bring a malpractice case should schedule a meeting with a local firm that is experienced in all aspects of medical malpractice, from filing to the conclusion.
Firm contact info:
5020 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006