Doctors and patients in Texas and New Mexico have eagerly been watching the status of a lawsuit poised to have major impact. In March 2017, such an impact was made with a new ruling protecting doctors from New Mexico negligence lawsuits. The state Supreme Court ruled to reverse decisions by the district court and Court of Appeals ruling that a Texas surgeon cannot be sued for medical malpractice in a case brought in New Mexico.
Background of the Ruling
The case in question began in 2004 when a New Mexico woman sought gastric bypass surgery. The surgery was completed by a surgeon from Texas Tech University. Shortly after the operation, she experienced abdominal pain, but the surgeon told her that it was expected and normal to have discomfort. Over the course of the months and even years following the procedure, the patient experienced extreme pain, and was admitted to several healthcare facilities.
In 2010, it was discovered by another doctor that internal sutures had become tangled, which caused the severe pain and an infection. The patient was never informed by the original surgeon that there were suture issues. Eventually, the internal suture started to bleed, thus causing complications and additional procedures in 2010.
In 2011, the patient filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Texas surgeon, pursuing recovery for medical costs, lost wages, and punitive damages. After years of litigation and analysis over whether medical malpractice laws and public policy in Texas would apply, or that of New Mexico, the state Supreme Court ruled in March 2017 that he cannot be sued in New Mexico.
Lubbock Doctors React to Case
Negligence lawsuits like this one have wide applicability for doctors and patients, and almost as soon as this one was filed, doctors in Lubbock and other areas of Texas close to the New Mexico border began changing their policies. In 2015, after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, doctors in those areas added clauses in their paperwork stating that procedures performed in Texas can only be litigated in Texas if issues arise.
Liability laws vary between Texas and New Mexico, and doctors who serve patients from eastern New Mexico became worried about the process. For example, noneconomic damage caps for medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas are $250,000, while in New Mexico, the cap is $600,000. Doctors who treat patients in both states have the added complication of maintaining liability protection that is applicable to both states.
What the Ruling Means for Patients
According to many attorneys involved in the case, the heart of the issue related to this lawsuit is ensuring that one state respects the laws of another state when medical malpractice claims arise. Texas is much more restrictive in terms of medical malpractice laws than New Mexico, and there is a strong opinion that patients crossing state lines should be mindful of such factors before seeking medical care.
Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit expressed their disappointment for the patient who was harmed, while also expressing understanding of the court’s decision. Unfortunately, that does little to help the patient find closure or relief from such a harrowing ordeal. She is left with the burden of medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and the years of litigation that resulted from events outside her control.
Finding Help When Medical Malpractice is Suspected
This case highlights only some of the complexities associated with negligence lawsuits. There are numerous possible factors that must be considered when medical malpractice is suspected and you consider filing a lawsuit. Some of the most important considerations include:
- Overcome the Fear of Failure – If you have been harmed by medical malpractice or negligence, you may feel overwhelmed with the trauma, pain, and emotionally-charged nature of your situation. The first step in finding help with negligence lawsuits is overcoming the fear that a pursuit of justice is fruitless. Yes, medical malpractice claims can be challenging and lengthy, but with the right help, they are often successful.
- Determine you Have a Case – The first step you should take after suspected medical malpractice occurs is speaking to an attorney to determine if you have a case. It is the burden of the plaintiff to prove that there was a relationship between themselves and the healthcare provider, which establishes a duty of care. Next, you must prove that the healthcare provider was negligent, and that said negligence caused the harm. There is a distinctive difference between a medical complication and medical malpractice. To save time and money, be sure that you have a legitimate case before filing a lawsuit.
- Pre-suit Requirements – Before you file a lawsuit, you and your attorney will likely complete a variety of processes. You will gather evidence and information, interview witnesses and experts, collect documents, and communicate with other parties involved. You and your attorney may communicate with other attorneys, medical experts, financial advisors, insurance companies, and other parties as necessary.
- Determine the Statute of Limitations – The statute of limitations is the period of time that a plaintiff (person filing a lawsuit) has to file a complaint with the court. Medical malpractice and negligence lawsuits generally have a two-year statute of limitations, but these limits often vary by state, and could vary depending on the facts of your case.
To learn more about medical malpractice laws in Texas, determine if you have a case, or get help with filing a lawsuit, contact Brown Wharton & Brothers today by filling out our online form. Our team of successful medical malpractice attorneys are poised to help you find the options that best protect your legal rights and restore what you lost due to medical malpractice or negligence.