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Is A Texas Hospital Slip and Fall a Healthcare Liability Claim?

hospital-lobby-1101832-mIn East El Paso Physicians Medical Center, LLC v. Olivia Vargas, an 81-year-old plaintiff who used a walker claimed she was injured when she went to a hospital facility. As she left the building, the automatic doors closed on her walker, and she fell and suffered a shoulder injury. She sued the hospital, arguing that the hospital had failed to correct a dangerous condition, failed to warn her about the dangerous condition, and failed to set and enforce appropriate safety standards.

The hospital moved to dismiss. It argued that the claim was a health care liability claim under the Texas Medical Liability Act (“the Act”). Under the Act, the plaintiff had to submit an expert report showing causation within 120 days of filing a health care liability claim. The hospital argued the plaintiff’s failure to file an expert report required that her case be dismissed. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The hospital appealed.

The hospital argued that the trial court had erred in denying its motion because the plaintiff’s allegations related to state regulations controlling hospital construction. It further argued that the plaintiff had not filed an ordinary premises liability claim, but a claim based on the standards that a hospital had to meet to offer health care services in Texas. The appellate court found that this argument didn’t sufficiently distinguish between the current case and other premises liability cases to bring the plaintiff’s claim within the requirements of the Act.

The appellate court explained that if a statute is unambiguous, the court adopts the interpretations supported by its plain language unless that interpretation leads to absurdities. The court explained that a healthcare liability claim under the Act has three elements:  (1) the defendant is a health care provider, (2) the claim regards treatment or the lack of it, or a departure from standards of care on one of four grounds, and (3) the conduct at issue is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury or death. The four grounds include medical care, health care, safety, and professional services related to health care. The claimant doesn’t need to be a patient of the provider under the Act.

The appellate court explained that artful pleading does not allow a plaintiff to dodge the procedural requirements of the Act. This means that if a plaintiff fails to timely serve the defendant with the expert report when the Act applies, the suit must be dismissed.

In this case, the hospital argued that the grounds here were safety grounds and that a safety-related claim did not need to be directly related to health care. The appellate court explained that other appellate courts in Texas were split on the issue of whether a defendant needed to prove an indirect connection to health care.

The appellate court explained that whether “safety” encompasses slip and fall claims at hospitals was an issue of first impression for the court. It further explained that Texas hadn’t passed a law stating all suits against health care providers are health care liability claims that depend on presenting an expert report on causation. Instead, “safety” in the Act cannot be read without limitation, and the Act was limited to the types of claims specified. The court explained that if a claim has nothing to do with providing health care, it is not a safety-related health care liability claim.

The court agreed with the hospital that it had to abide by regulations regarding construction guidelines and safe operations. These included a regulation about the force required to operate a door and other requirements. However, the appellate court found that even if hospital licensure was implicated, a pertinent safety regulation didn’t automatically turn a claim into a safety healthcare liability claim. The issue was whether the plaintiff had alleged the health care provider breached safety standards directly or indirectly related to health care.

The court concluded a slip and fall claim is not indirectly connected to health care. There was no difference between a slip and fall in a department store lobby and a slip and fall in the hospital lobby. Therefore, the Act didn’t apply.

If you are hurt in a slip and fall on somebody else’s property, it’s important to retain attorneys who understand the intricacies of premises liability claims. The experienced San Antonio premises liability attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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