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Texas Supreme Court Holds Patient’s Slip and Fall is a Health Care Liability Claim

by Lauren M. Nelson, JD on May 16th, 2011

The Texas Supreme Court recently held a patient fall in a hospital restroom qualifies as a health care liability claim. In Harris Methodist Fort Worth v. Ollie, Plaintiff Jo Fawn Ollie filed suit for injuries she sustained when she slipped on the wet floor while getting out of the bathtub during her post-operative hospitalization. Originally, Ollie asserted both general negligence and medical malpractice claims for failing to provide a safe environment, but subsequently amended her petition to omit the medical malpractice allegations. Ollie sent the hospital the requisite Chapter 74 notice letter the day she filed suit.

Ollie did not serve an expert report and the hospital moved to dismiss. The trial court denied the hospital’s motion and a divided court of appeals affirmed, concluding the claim was for a breach of ordinary care and thus was not a health care liability claim.

The Supreme Court disagreed, opining that when determining whether a claim falls within the purview of Chapter 74, courts are not bound by the form of the pleading; rather, the underlying nature of the claim determines whether it is a health care liability claim. The Court held the underlying nature of Ollie’s claim determines whether her claim was for a departure from accepted standards of safety relating to “an act…that should have been performed or furnished by [Harris Methodist] for, to, or on behalf of [Ollie] during [Ollie’s] medical care, treatment, or confinement.” The Court noted that hospital services necessarily include those services required to meet patients’ fundamental needs such as cleanliness.

The Court found that Ollie’s action was a safety claim directly related to services meeting her fundamental needs and thus fell within Chapter 74’s definition of a health care liability claim. Ollie was required to serve an expert report, and the trial court should have dismissed her claim when she failed to do so. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded with instructions to dismiss Ollie’s claim and to consider the hospital’s request for attorney’s fees and costs.

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