In the Texas Supreme Court case of In Re HEB Grocery Store Company, the Court considered whether a trial court had properly denied the defendant’s motion to conduct a physical examination of a personal injury victim.
The case arose when the plaintiff sued a grocery store for negligence, claiming he’d tripped and fallen over a metal plate in front of the grocery car corral in its parking lot, suffering injuries to his face, neck, shoulder, arm, and knee. He underwent medical care, including spinal surgeries. While the lawsuit was pending, he was also involved in an accident at a Sam’s Club. He sued the Sam’s Club, claiming that an employee had dropped a roll of artificial turf on his head, causing him to suffer head and neck injuries.
The grocery store retained as a medical expert an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon didn’t examine the plaintiff but did provide a report with opinions about the plaintiff’s injuries, relying on a medical records review. It was his opinion that the plaintiff’s spinal injuries were the result of a preexisting spinal condition and that nothing in the plaintiff’s MRI a month after the fall suggested he had an acute injury.
The grocery store then filed the motion for a physical examination, asking that the plaintiff submit to an examination by its expert. The expert filed an affidavit in support. The court, without an explanation, denied the motion. The grocery store then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus and an emergency motion to the court of appeals, which denied the motions on the grounds that the store hadn’t provided enough evidence of its right to relief. The grocery store then filed for mandamus relief from the Texas Supreme Court.
The Court explained that mandamus is only granted if the trial court abused its discretion, and there is no adequate appellate remedy. When a trial court clearly fails to analyze the law correctly, such that there is a clear and prejudicial error of law or the law is incorrectly applied to the facts, there is an abuse of discretion. However, the party bringing the petition for mandamus must be able to show that the trial court could reasonably reach just one conclusion.
Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 204.1 provides that one party can require another party to undergo a physical or mental examination if: (1) there is good cause for the examination, and (2) the mental or physical condition of the party who must undergo the examination is in controversy. Good cause exists if the moving party can show that the examination is relevant to issues in the suit and likely to lead to relevant evidence, the examination will establish a reasonable connection between the exam and the condition, and the information sought can’t be gotten through less intrusive methods.
The Court explained that the issues in dispute in the lawsuit were the existence and extent of the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries, and what caused them. The examining doctor expected to get this information through a physical exam. The plaintiff argued that the doctor had already formed an opinion without conducting the exam, but the Court noted that this didn’t make the exam irrelevant. The Court also explained there was a reasonable connection between the exam and the condition at issue. The doctor had explained at deposition that a treating doctor is in a better position to examine a patient’s injuries than a doctor who reviewed records. The plaintiff planned to prove causation and damages by using his own expert. The grocery store was entitled to allow its own expert the same opportunity.
The Court also agreed that the Sam’s Club incident introduced complications that made a physical examination necessary. It ruled that there was a clear abuse of discretion and no clear, adequate remedy other than mandamus relief. The Court granted the grocery store’s petition and directed the trial court to require the plaintiff to submit to a physical examination.
If you are injured on somebody else’s property, you should consult an experienced Texas attorney with experience in premises liability cases to seek the best possible outcome. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.