Monday, March 15, 2010

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Texas Supreme Court Upholds Medical Malpractice Reform Law

AUSTIN – The Texas Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s 10-year statute of repose on medical malpractice lawsuits. In November 2009, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an amicus brief defending the medical malpractice reform law.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature responded to a lack of physicians and doctors’ rising medical malpractice insurance premiums by prohibiting plaintiffs from filing medical malpractice lawsuits more than a decade after the act that forms the basis of their lawsuit.

Media links
Attorney General's brief filed with the Texas Supreme Court
Texas Supreme Court Opinion

In a decision reached Friday, Justice Don Willett wrote that House Bill 4’s 10-year statute of repose does not interfere with an individual’s common law right to commence a medical malpractice lawsuit. Rather, the state’s tort reform law “... is a reasonable exercise of the Legislature’s police power to act in the interest of the general welfare.” The opinion stated that the 10-year statute of repose for healthcare-liability claims does not violate the Texas Constitution’s Open Courts provision.

As the amicus brief authored by Solicitor General James Ho noted, “A decade is a long time to wait for a lawsuit to end – let alone for one to begin.” The brief further explained that “… our legal system does not remedy injuries in perpetuity. Evidence grows stale; eyewitnesses move; records become lost; and parties receive assurances that courts will not reexamine acts from the distant past that have long since faded from memory. The rule of law is served by clear rules – and that includes traditional rules governing the timing of suit.”

The Supreme Court agreed, noting that the repose statute eliminates medical professionals’ uncertainty about their liability: “One practical upside of curbing open-ended exposure is to prevent defendants from answering claims where evidence may prove elusive due to unavailable witnesses (perhaps deceased), faded memories, lost or destroyed records, and institutions that no longer exist.”

The state’s amicus brief was filed in a case styled Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio v. Rankin.