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Texas Supreme Court: Spider Bites are Health Care Liability Claims

by Lauren M. Nelson, JD on July 5th, 2011

On July 1, 2011, the Texas Supreme Court issued three opinions which impact health care liability claims. The Court addressed safety claims, recovery of paid or incurred medical expenses, and deficient expert reports. Summaries of the three cases will be posted this week.

In Omaha Healthcare Center, LLC v. Johnson, No. 08-0231, the Court assessed safety claims actionable as health care liability claims. This case is similar to the Court’s May opinion in Harris Methodist Fort Worth v. Ollie, in which the Court held a post-operative slip and fall at a hospital was a health care liability claim. Omaha involves a nursing home patient, Reed, who died after being bitten by a brown recluse spider. The patient’s sister, Johnson, asserted a premises liability claim against the nursing home, Omaha Healthcare Center, alleging it breached its duty by failing to inspect for spider and insect infestations, following effective cleaning procedures, instituting proper pest control policies, and taking the necessary actions to prevent insect and spider infestations.

Omaha moved to dismiss on the grounds the claims were health care liability claims and no expert report was served. The trial court denied the motion and the court of appeals affirmed, holding the claims were premises liability claims.

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed and found the claim was a health care liability claim. The Court reasoned that “health care” involves more than acts of physical care and medical diagnosis and treatment – it involves “any act performed or furnished, or that should have been performed or furnished, by any health care provider for, to, or on behalf of a patient during the patient’s confinement.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.001(a)(10),(13). Services a nursing home provides its patients during confinement include meeting patients’ fundamental needs. Nursing homes are required to provide their patients more than just physical care and treatment; they are required to provide “quality care” which includes safety of the environment. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 242.001(a)(1), (8).

The Court found that Johnson’s safety claim was a health care liability claim because the underlying nature of was Omaha’s failure exercise the care required of an ordinarily prudent nursing home to protect and care for Reed during her confinement. Because Johnson failed to serve the statutorily required expert report, her claim had to be dismissed. The Court remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the claims and consider Omaha’s request for attorney’s fees and costs.

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