Texas Supreme Court Holds Retaliation Claim is Health Care Liability Claim

The Texas Supreme Court has again broadened the scope “health care liability claims” (HCLCs) under the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA). HCLCs must be supported by detailed medical expert reports. Insufficient reports result in dismissals of a plaintiff’s case and payment of the defendant’s attorney’s fees and costs.  In PM Management-Trinity NC, LLC v. Kumets, the Texas Supreme Court determined that even retaliation claims brought under the Texas Health and Safety Code (TH&SC) may be  HCLC’s that require an expert medical report.

In that case, Yevgeniya Kumets suffered from a stroke and was subsequently admitted to the Trinity Care Center nursing home.  She suffered another stroke while at the facility.  Her family complained, and Ms. Kumets was subsequently discharged.

Her family sued Trinity, asserting a slew of claims including negligence, gross negligence, and breach of contract.  In a discrete section of their petition, the family also asserted a TH&SC claim for retaliation, claiming that Ms. Kumets was illegally discharged from the facility as a result of the family members’ complaints regarding her care.

The plaintiffs filed an expert report that addressed the standard of care issues but not the retaliation claim.  Trinity filed a motion to dismiss the retaliation claim, asserting that it was also an HCLC.  The trial court disagreed, and Trinity appealed.  A divided court of appeals affirmed the trial court, holding that the retaliation claim was not an HCLC.  The court reasoned that the allegations related to the retaliation claim did not directly involve the care and treatment of Ms. Kumets; rather they involved complaints and discharge.  Furthermore, there were no allegations that the discharge caused Ms. Kumets any physical, mental, or emotional injuries.  The majority opinion explained that claims involving only economic harm are not HCLCs.  Trinity again appealed.

The Texas Supreme Court, in a per curiam opinion, summarily held that the retaliation claim was, in fact, a health care liability claim.  “When a plaintiff asserts a claim that is based on the same underlying facts as an HCLC that the plaintiff also asserts, both claims are HCLCs and must be dismissed if the plaintiff fails to produce a sufficient expert report.”  The TMLA does not allow a plaintiff to artfully craft a pleading to circumvent the expert report requirement.  The court carefully noted that not every retaliation claim would fall under the TMLA.  However, when the underlying facts are the same for a medical negligence claim and a retaliation claim, the retaliation claim also falls under the TMLA and requires an early expert report.

The court remanded, directed the trial court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ case and ordered that the plaintiffs pay Trinity’s attorney’s fees and costs.

This column is published for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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