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Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys. – Not All Hospital Injuries are Created Equal

Lee Memorial Health System is the No. 1 employer in Lee County, with 9,500 workers in four different hospitals. Most of the injury lawsuits it faces are going to be:

  • Workers’ compensation claims;
  • Medical malpractice injuries. ward

There are differing proof burdens for each, and the level of evidence needed in medical malpractice cases is especially high.

However, there is a third type of claim that could arise, and it’s important to make the distinction: General negligence. That is, if the person injured wasn’t a worker or a patient and the injury didn’t stem from some violated provision of health care, it’s likely a general negligence claim. The reason it’s necessary to classify this upfront is that medical malpractice claims almost always require expert witness testimony and there are certain time limits and lawsuit notification deadlines that have to be met.

Sometimes, health care systems will argue that a claim filed as general negligence is in fact medical malpractice because they want plaintiffs to face additional hurdles. That gives defendant hospitals and health care workers more of an opportunity to prevail in their case.

With the help of our experienced Fort Myers personal injury lawyers, plaintiffs will know at the outset what type of claim they are dealing with and the best strategy with which to proceed.

One recent case in Texas shows how health care systems sometimes assert this argument. In Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys., the Texas Supreme Court ruled plaintiff’s claim was not one sounding in medical negligence – as defense asserted – but rather one of general negligence.

According to court records, plaintiff went to the hospital to visit a relative, who was a patient. While walking from the hospital pharmacy to her relative’s room, she slipped and fell on water that was coming out of the restroom. She sustained injuries as a result.

When she filed a lawsuit against the hospital to recover damages, the hospital moved for summary judgment on the grounds this was a medical liability case and she failed to serve an expert report, which is required in medical negligence cases under Texas law. In support of the motion, hospital cited the 2012 case of Texas West Oaks Hospital L.P. v. Williams, in which it was decided that when a claimant alleges some safety standard-based claim against a health care organization, the standards don’t necessarily need to be directly related to a provision of health care in order for it to be considered medical negligence under state law. Hospital argued plaintiff’s allegations fell within this common understanding of the term “safety” and therefore this was a medical negligence claim.

Trial court denied this motion, but the appellate court reversed, deciding health care liability claims are any that allege departures from accepted standards of safety that involve protection from danger, loss or harm, but not necessarily related to health care.

Texas Supreme Court reversed. In so doing, the court posed a number of questions, including:

  • Did the alleged negligence occur in the course of defendant engaging in tasks with the purpose of protecting patients from harm?
  • Did injuries occur in a time and place where patients would be receiving care?
  • At the time, was claimant in the process of seeking or receiving health care?
  • Was the act based on safety standards that arise from professional duties owed by the health care provider?
  • Was the instrumentality involved (if any) used in providing health care?
  • Was the alleged action or failure something that would have been necessary to comply with safety-related requirements specifically for health care providers?

After consideration of the answers to these questions as a whole, the court concluded this was not a hospital liability claim, but one of general negligence.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hosp. Sys., Dec. 4, 2015, Texas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Griffin v. Haunted Hotel, Inc. – Assumption of Risk Doctrine,  Dec. 2, 2015, Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Blog