Texas Supreme Court to Determine Whether Medical Malpractice Laws Apply to Autopsies

The Texas Supreme Court has agreed to determine in November whether a postmortem fraud claim can be a medical malpractice claim under Texas law and therefore subject to dismissal or limitation of liability under the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA). The court will look at the case of a woman who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Christus St. Catherine Hospital in 2004 after hospital personnel allegedly failed to properly evaluate her husband’s condition both before and following giving him a large dose of painkillers. She later added postmortem fraud claims alleging improper hospital conduct in getting her consent to an autopsy.

A jury found the Houston-area hospital liable for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and postmortem negligence, awarding the woman mental anguish damages for all claims and exemplary damages on her fraud claim. However, the hospital argued the fraud claim was actually a health care liability and thus should be dismissed under the TMLA.

The plaintiff further accused Christus Hospital of conspiring to commit a fraudulent cover-up of her husband’s death. She also said the pathologist retained her husband’s heart following the autopsy. Blood serum was also not immediately disclosed.

The hospital argued the missing heart and blood were mistakes, while the plaintiff said the they were hiding crucial evidence. After a court battle, the plaintiff received the heart from the hospital and sent the remains to be tested, which revealed the heart contained no human DNA and most likely was not human.

The case proceeded to trial in August 2010, and the jury found against the plaintiff on the claims involving health care liability and interference with right of interment, which she did not challenge.

However, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff on her claims of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and post-mortem negligence, awarding her millions in damages. The trial court reduced the award to $750,000 in accordance with the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. The case was then brought before the First District Court of Appeals in Houston, and in August 2013 justices affirmed the judgment but changed the damages. Both sides are petitioning the Texas Supreme Court.

The Law Offices of Aaron Allison is highly qualified and welcomes the opportunity to represent those who have been seriously injured or who have lost family members as a result of medical malpractice. Contact our Austin medical malpractice attorneys to schedule a free consultation today with our team.

The Law Offices of Aaron Allison – Austin Medical Malpractice Attorney



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