Business Law Current Event Article Analysis
January 24, 2013
Despite Counsel, Victim Is Hindered by Tort Laws
By BECCA AARONSON
SAN ANTONIO — When Connie Spears arrived at a Christus Santa Rosa hospital emergency room in 2010 with severe leg pain, she told medical staff members about her history of blood clots. Doctors sent her home with a far less serious diagnosis.
Days later, swollen and delusional, Ms. Spears was taken by ambulance to another hospital where doctors found a severe clot and extensive tissue damage. With her life on the line, they amputated both of her legs above the knee.
Nearly three years later, Ms. Spears contends that she is a victim not only of a medical mistake but also of Texas’ tort reform laws.
The huge tort reform package that Texas lawmakers approved in 2003 capped noneconomic damages that a plaintiff could receive for medical malpractice at $250,000 and set a “willful and wanton” negligence standard — interpreted as intentionally harming the patient — for emergency care. It also required plaintiffs to find a practicing or teaching physician in the same specialty as the defendant to serve as an expert witness and to demonstrate evidence of negligence before a trial. Under the strengthened rules, if plaintiffs fail to produce adequate expert reports within 120 days of filing their cases, they are liable for defendants’ legal fees.
Ms. Spears said the laws obstructed her ability to find a malpractice lawyer and forced a judge to order her to pay thousands of dollars to cover some defendants’ legal bills. Her lawyers plan to file a motion that challenges the laws’ constitutionality.
“How can that law be?” Ms. Spears asked. “Maybe the law was too loose before, but they went way too far the other way.”
Tort reform proponents say that such restrictions are the only...