In March, San Antonio medical malpractice victims were once again trumped by Texas laws that protect insurance companies and the medical industry. The Texas Supreme Court, in Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio, Ltd., LLP, et al v. Rankin, held that a law passed by the legislature imposing an absolute 10-year time limit to bring medical malpractice claims trumped the Texas Constitution and the “open courts” protections therein.
Briefly, in 1995, the victim of the malpractice underwent a surgical procedure. Apparently a surgical sponge (typically an 18″ x 18″ gauze pad) was left inside of the patient. She was discharged and never informed of this event. In 2006, after suffering abdominal pain, she was informed by a physician that there was a surgical sponge left inside of her – necessarily dating back to the only prior surgery in 1995. Once a sponge or other foreign object is discovered, a second surgery becomes mandatory, and there are often complications with infection, scarring and adhesions with these follow-up surgeries.
The patient sought legal counsel and attempted to seek compensation for the unnecessary surgery, medical bills and any future consequences directly related to the retained sponge. The hospital and doctors involved in the original surgery sought to have the case dismissed under the legislative mandate that, once 10 years passes the negligent conduct of a hospital, doctor or other healthcare provider cannot be complained about in court. Despite the fact that no physician ever told the victim that she was suffering because of this sponge that had been left inside of her until after 10 years had passed, the court ruled that the legislature intended to protect the healthcare industry and give protections to the insurance companies that cover these events, and that the 10-year time limit did not violate the Texas Constitution.
Clearly, time limits are put on cases for legitimate reasons. There must be some closure for events that are known to have caused damage or injury, and legal protections should be instituted within those time frames. However, the “open courts” provision of the Texas Constitution was put in place for the very instance where an individual that had no way of knowing that there rights were violated. This malpractice patient acted promptly and reasonably when the violation was discovered, but the legislative bar imposed by politicians that would rather protect the medical and insurance lobby over patients prevented her from obtaining any relief.
Medical malpractice laws contain a myriad of hurdles and pitfalls. If you or a loved one has been the victim of malpractice, seek an experienced voice to guide you. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can advise and consult with you about your rights, and how to protect those rights even under the current state of the law.