The owners of the bridal store filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the Dallas hospital where Ms V worked, alleging that the hospital negligently failed to prevent the spread of EVD in its control and management of the staff. Specifically, the bridal store owners alleged that the hospital was negligent by failing to:
- Recognize the danger of the Ebola virus coming to its hospitals
- Develop and implement policies and procedures on how to respond to the presence of the Ebola virus in the patient population
- Ensure that all health care providers were trained on policies and procedures on how to recognize, appreciate, contain, and treat the Ebola virus in the patient population
- Train nurses on proper protection from Ebola
- Ensure that the hospital had appropriate personal protective equipment
- Notify the appropriate authorities and employ qualified people to manage patients with Ebola
- Instruct and warn its nurses about the dangers of travel and interacting with the public following potential exposure to the Ebola virus
- Protect the public from foreseeable harm when it unnecessarily exposed its nurses to the Ebola virus in an unsafe manner and failed to prevent or warn the exposed nurses from interacting with the public.
The hospital moved to dismiss the case because the bridal store did not submit an expert report supporting its allegations as required by a Texas statute.
The trial court denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss, and the hospital appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the bridal shop’s claim against the hospital is a health care liability claim and, thus, an expert report is required. The court of appeals dismissed the case. The bridal shop appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which granted review.
The first issue the court analyzed was whether the bridal shop is considered a “claimant” by the Texas Medical Liability Act, which requires an expert report. The court concluded that the Act’s definition of “claimant” includes corporations, regardless of whether the injury alleged was economic or physical. Because the bridal shop had alleged that the hospital was negligent in controlling the spread of Ebola, the hospital fell short of implementing health care-related safety standards. The court held that the claim constituted health care liability under the Texas Medical Liability Act. Because the bridal shop did not submit the required report by an expert detailing the support for and factual basis for the claim, the case was dismissed.
This case failed on a technicality. We will never know whether the bridal shop could have found an expert to support its claim. The case is of interest in the context of the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Can a nurse or hospital be sued if they failed to take enough precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from hospital patients to the public? With the number of COVID cases so vastly different than that seen during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, a flood of cases could cripple an already suffering healthcare system.
As always, do your best even in the worst circumstances to protect your patients and yourself.
Ann W. Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, New York.