Skip to content

The Ever-Widening Net – How Far Will The Texas Supreme Court Extend Chapter 74?

by E. Dale Burrus, JD, LLM on August 26th, 2012

The Texas Supreme Court once again broadened the scope of Chapter 74, requiring its application in cases against health care providers in which the plaintiff is not a patient and, most likely, in all premises liability cases. The breadth of Chapter 74’s scope, while widening, appears not to have reached its limit.

In its June 12, 2012 ruling, the Texas Supreme Court, in West Oaks Hospital v. Williams, in a six to three opinion, defined a health care liability claim (HCLC) under Chapter 74 as:

  1. a physician or health care provider must be a defendant;
  2. the claim or claims at issue must concern treatment, lack of treatment, or a departure from accepted standards of medical care, or health care, or safety or professional or administrative services directly related to health care; and
  3. the defendant’s act or omission complained of must proximately cause the injury to the claimant.

In Williams, a psychiatric technician sued West Oaks Hospital, alleging among other claims that the hospital did not adequately train or supervise its employees. The plaintiff was injured by a mental patient whom he was supervising at the time.

Under its definition of a HCLC, the Williams Court broadened the scope of claims for “health care” and “safety.” The Court ruled that in health care and safety cases, the plaintiff does not have to be a patient to be a “claimant.”

With respect to claims regarding health care, the Williams Court held that the underlying case must involve a patient/physician relationship and there must be a nexus between the breach of the standard of care and the claimant’s injury. In the facts before it, the Court determined the alleged breach of the standard of care was the failure of training and safety protocols in the care of the patient that led to the employee’s injuries.  The Williams Court also stated that the need for expert testimony to support the claim was conclusive that it was a HCLC.

Accordingly, under the Williams ruling, an employee of a non-subscribing employer of the Texas Worker’s Compensation Act (TWCA) whose claim resulted from a patient/physician relationship and the breach of which caused the injury is subject to Chapter 74. Nurses therefore whose claim results from the care of patients in which the claim is a departure of the standard of care for the patient and whose employer did not subscribe to TWCA must comply with Chapter 74.

In the area of safety, the Williams Court also significantly broadened Chapter 74’s scope. The majority of the Williams Court defined “safety” as being “secure from danger, harm, or loss.” The Court specifically held that Chapter 74 did not require that a safety claim be “related to health care” as has previously been understood. It further intimated that premise liability claims are encompassed within the statute.

Because a claim by a non-patient against a health care provider that involves safety falls under Chapter 74, the requirements of Chapter 74 – notice letter, medical authorization, and expert report – apply, without which the case would be dismissed.

How far will the reach of Chapter 74 go? Without legislative intervention, it is undefined.  So far it extends to falls by patients, spider bites, and sexual misconduct by another patient. Now with Williams, it also encompasses a claim by an employee against an employer for the conduct of a patient. Most likely, Chapter 74’s scope will continue to grow.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email