“The king can do no wrong” is a phrase that sums up the basis of the ancient doctrines of sovereign immunity and official immunity.
Even today, you can only sue the government or one of its employees to the extent that there’s a statute that allows it. In Texas, the statute is called the Torts Claims Act, and it protects state, county, and local governments, and their employees.
Under the strange interrelation of different Texas laws, did you know that the Tort Claims Act protects many doctors who work at Memorial Hermann Hospital or Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center?
What does the Tort Claims Act require?
Before discussing how many Memorial Hermann doctors have surprising protections under a law designed to protect the government, let’s first cover how the Tort Claims Act works.
• A patient must give a state entity (hospital) or state employee (physician) notice of a claim within six months of the date the negligence occurred. If the government had actual notice, the notice of claim would be unnecessary; however, a plaintiff would likely face a legal battle on whether actual notice occurred.
• In a medical malpractice case, the claim has to involve the use or condition of tangible personal property. For example, giving the wrong medication would be a valid claim, but making the wrong diagnosis or misreading a CT scan wouldn’t suffice.
• The state government entity or employee is protected by a total cap of $250,000 per person/claimant.
How does Memorial Hermann get sovereign and official immunity protections?
Memorial Hermann Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital aren’t part of the Texas government. They’re hospitals owned and operated by the mammoth Memorial Hermann Health System, the largest nonprofit health system in southeast Texas. The system has 16 hospitals and many other centers, institutes, and facilities all over the Houston area.
Thus, the Memorial Hermann employees themselves don’t have sovereign or official immunity protections. Memorial Hermann employees include personnel like nurses, aides, pharmacy staff, and techs.
Under the unique Texas corporate practice of medicine doctrine, physicians can’t be hospital employees. Of course, hospitals exercise a lot of control over their medical staffs, and the public would never guess that physicians aren’t hospital employees based on all the advertising.
You may have noticed billboards or other ads touting Memorial Hermann’s affiliation with the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston (“UT”). Memorial Hermann and UT have a cozy relationship. Memorial Hermann provides hospitals in the arrangement, and UT provides physicians who work in Memorial Hermann hospitals.
UT physicians who work at Memorial Hermann facilities include:
• Attending physicians, professors who are responsible for supervising and educating doctors who are still in their training.
• Residents, the new doctors fresh out of medical school who spend additional years learning their specific practice areas in the Memorial Hermann/UT program. Residencies include things like obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, and radiology.
• Fellows, the doctors who’ve finished their residencies and are spending an additional year or two for subspecialty training. Fellowships include things like maternal fetal medicine and neuroradiology.
If you’re victimized by physician medical malpractice at a Memorial Hermann facility in the Texas Medical Center, there’s a very good chance that it involved a UT employee and, thus, that the Tort Claims Act applies. If the medical errors only involved nursing care, the Tort Claims Act provisions wouldn’t apply.
The Tort Claims Act is dangerous for plaintiffs with claims related to Memorial Hermann care
A recent opinion released by Houston’s First Court of Appeals highlights the risk to plaintiffs. The case is styled University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston v. Telicia Owens, No. 01-18-00464-CV, In the First Court of Appeals, On Appeal from the 152nd District Court of Harris County Texas.
In the Owens case, the plaintiff was a Memorial Hermann patient who filed a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice against a UT physician and other healthcare providers.
After Owens invested substantial time and money to comply with the expert report requirements that are a part of any Texas medical malpractice case, UT filed a plea to the jurisdiction, alleging that it didn’t receive the required six-month notice under the Tort Claims Act.
A plea to the jurisdiction is a procedural tool for UT to ask the trial court to dismiss the case. The trial judge denied the UT plea, and it was taken up on appeal. The First Court of Appeals reversed and rendered the case, meaning that it ordered the plaintiff’s case against UT and its employee-physician at Memorial Hermann dismissed without further proceedings.
The long and short of it is there’s definitely a time urgency for injured patients to contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney when there’s a suspicion of negligent care at a Memorial Hermann facility. If you or a loved one had been seriously injured by care at a Memorial Hermann facility, protect your rights by calling an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today.