A Medical Malpractice Victim’s Struggle for Justice in Texas

One woman’s fight for a medical malpractice case illuminates what many claim is unfair about the Texas healthcare system. Medical malpractice lawyers reveal the struggle many medical error victims now face in Texas courts.

Connie Spears was rushed to the emergency room at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in 2010 with severe leg pain. She told the doctors and nurses assisting her about her history of serious blood clots, however, she was misdiagnosed with a far less serious condition and sent home. Over the next few days, Spears’ legs consistently swelled, and her thoughts become more and more deluded. Ultimately, her condition was so worsened that she was taken to another hospital in an ambulance.

At this hospital Spears was in critical condition, with severe blood clots and extensive tissue damage. Doctors were forced to amputate both her legs above the knee, rendering her wheel-chair bound and disabled for the rest of her life. A clear victim of medical negligence, Spears attempted to retain legal counsel, but because of the new tort legislation, she could not find a lawyer to take her case. Finally, one compassionate attorney agreed to represent her in court.

Texas lawmakers approved an enormous tort reform package in 2003. The new laws capped noneconomic damages awards at $250,000 for medical malpractice plaintiffs and set new standards for negligence in emergency care. Now, plaintiffs must provide proof that physicians willfully and wantonly harmed the patient, which is a tough burden to meet. Additionally, they must find a practicing physician specializing in the same field as the defendant to testify on the plaintiff’s behalf. The testifying physician must serve as an expert witness in pre-trial proceedings and demonstrate evidence of negligence. Finally, plaintiffs must provide such a medical expert within 120 after filing the case, or they are liable for the defendants’ legal costs.

Spears struggled for two full years to obtain legal counsel until one finally took the case. Spears and her attorney obtained one medical expert in time, however, the report failed to identify the proper defendants. Spears and her legal team tried again, but by this time, the 120 days time frame was winding down, and it was too late to find another expert witness.

The judge was forced to order Spears responsible for thousands of dollars worth of legal fees for Christus Santa Rosa Hospital. Spears’ retirement savings are close to gone from all the medical expenses, and her husband is out of work. The couple is now afraid they will lose their house if forced to pay the legal expenses. Her attorneys are now planning to file a motion challenging the legislations’ constitutionality.

The tort reform package was intended to weed out frivolous lawsuits with no legal basis from the beginning, so not to waste valuable time and resources. The average medical malpractice case takes about four years from the initial negligence to ultimately resolve. However, it appears that Texas lawmakers may have gone too far. The new laws only hinder and prevent medical negligence victims from obtaining justice and strengthen private insurance agencies. Tort reform supporters and Texas lawmakers promised that the 2003 legislation would lower healthcare costs. This did not happen – Medicare spending actually increased rapidly.

Tort proponents also argued that doctors were fleeing Texas in hordes because of high lawsuit risk, and that the new laws would bring in thousands of new doctors. This is also unfounded. There is no evidence that suggests that the current number of doctors in Texas is at all larger than it would have been without the reform, nor is there evidence to support there was a so-called “mass physician exodus” before the reform.

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this story to expose the reality of such malpractice caps and tort reforms. Such reforms do not lower health care costs nor do they increase influx of doctors. They merely hinder already-suffering victims of medical negligence, such as Connie Spears. If you or someone close to you was the victim of medical malpractice, consider seeking legal counsel to obtain maximum compensation for your suffering.

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