Texas Appeals Court: Standard for Emergency Care Only Applies to Emergency Department Care
The Second Court of Appeals of Texas determined the standard of care that applies during emergency medical treatment is only relevant if the patient was first treated in a hospital’s emergency department. Under Texas law, there is a higher legal standard for bringing medical malpractice cases against emergency room physicians and medical personnel than when medical malpractice lawsuits are filed against other medical professionals or facilities. This heightened standard is meant to offer additional protections for ER doctors. However, there are limits to this protection. A Texas appellate court found this standard did not apply in a situation in which an infant suffered an injury at birth following the mother receiving some emergency medical care.
The appellate court’s decision is good news for patients who were injured and may have been limited by having to prove a willful and wanton standard of negligence during a medical malpractice claim.
Texas’ ER Standard of Care
When an individual files a medical malpractice suit, he or she must prove that the medical professional or facility had a duty of care toward him or her as a patient and that a breach of this duty led to his or her injuries. For most physicians, this duty, or standard of care, means that they must treat patients to the same standard of care as other reasonably qualified physicians would treat similar patients in similar circumstances.
However, the standard of care when an individual receives care in an emergency department is slightly different. Under Texas law section 74.151, a person who administers emergency care is not liable for medical malpractice claims unless he or she performs an act in a willfully or wantonly negligent manner.
Section 74.153 defines the standard of proof for emergency medicine. The individual bringing the medical malpractice claim must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the physician, with willful or wanton negligence, deviated from the degree of care and skill that would be reasonably expected of an ordinarily prudent physician or other health care provider in the same or similar circumstances.
When Does the Emergency Care Standard Apply?
This question arose when an infant, known in the lawsuit as D.A., suffered a shoulder nerve injury during birth. The infant was delivered in a Texas hospital’s obstetrics unit. However, prior to the birth, the infant’s mother, M.A., was evaluated in the emergency department. This caused the physician's and hospital’s attorneys to argue that the infant and mother must meet Texas’ higher standard of care for emergency medical care. The trial court agreed.
However, upon appeal, this decision was reversed. The appeals court found the heightened standard did not apply because the mother and child were not first evaluated and treated in the emergency care unit. The panel of judges scrutinized the Texas law based on its grammar and the legislators' intent. The purpose of the law is to protect emergency medical personnel who treat patients for the first time without the benefit of knowing the patients’ histories. Based on this understanding, it would not be appropriate to apply the emergency care standard to a patient who was not evaluated and did not receive emergency care in an emergency department.
A Texas Medical Malpractice Lawyer is Here to Help
If you have been injured by a physician or other medical professional, you may have a medical malpractice claim. Contact the passionate New Braunfels medical malpractice attorneys of the Bettersworth Law Firm to schedule a consultation and learn more.