One of the early important decisions that an experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer must make is where to file the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
Medical malpractice claims originate in negligence law, which means that they’re state law claims. Although there are some limited instances where a federal court may have jurisdiction over state law claims, in the vast majority of cases that’s not the case.
Thus, a competent medical malpractice attorney will consider and focus on selecting the best Texas county for the client’s case that’s allowed under Texas venue laws.
Texas laws governing venue are found in Chapter 15 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. Most medical malpractice cases are governed by the general rule, which is found in Section 15.002. The general venue rule provides that a lawsuit shall be brought in one of four counties:
(1) The county where all or a substantial part of the events for admission giving rise to the claim occurred; or
(2) The county of a defendant’s residence, if the defendant is a natural person, at the time the cause of action accrued; or
(3) The county of the defendant’s principal office in Texas, if the defendant isn’t a natural person; or
(4) If #1–3 don’t apply, the county where the plaintiff resided the time the cause of action accrued.
Sometimes plaintiffs express their preference to file the suit in the county where they live. A quick reading of the venue rules shows, though, that’s not always allowed. Under the mandatory venue rules, first preference is given to the county where the relevant events occurred or a defendant’s residence or principal office is.
Researching a hospital's principal office with the Texas Secretary State sometimes yields some interesting results. For example, some hospitals in The Woodlands (Montgomery County) have principal offices in Houston (Harris County).
I’ve found that a good way to start studying the venue options for a particular case is to make a list of all counties that would be allowed under the mandatory venue rule. Next, compare the counties considering factors like the following:
• What’s the general reputation of the courts in each county? While the goal is to have courts that are neutral, some counties have a reputation to favor one side or the other.
• What’s the general reputation of the jury pool in each county?
• What’s the proportion or presence of healthcare workers in each county? In counties that have lots of hospitals, doctors, and nurses, this is something to consider.
• How busy are the courts and how long would it take to get to trial in each county? Even though most medical malpractice cases settle in Texas these days, mediation and settlements typically occur close to a trial setting. In other words, courts with aggressive scheduling may be appealing in many plaintiffs’ cases.
When there’s more than one option for venue in the case, it’s something that’s worthy of careful analysis. A top-rated, experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer can help guide all aspects of your case, including venue, in the right direction.