Texas Supreme Court reverses ruling in malpractice case over infant's birth injuries

By Carrie Salls | Jan 14, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) – The Texas Supreme Court said in a Dec. 21 opinion that the parents of a baby born at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Denton must prove willful and wanton negligence under the Texas Medical Liability Act’s emergency-medical care provision in their suit against the hospital and a physician.

The Supreme Court decision overturns a ruling made by the Court of Appeals for the 2nd District of Texas. The high court reinstated the trial court's partial summary judgment and remanded the case.

"For the reasons explained, we conclude that section 74.153 requires claimants to prove willful and wanton negligence when their claims arise out of the provision of emergency medical care in a hospital obstetrical unit, regardless of whether that care is provided immediately following an evaluation or treatment in the hospital’s emergency department," Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote. 

"This is the only reasonable construction of the statute’s language, and we 'must take the Legislature at its word, respect its policy choices, and resist revising a statute under the guise of interpreting it.'” 

In overturning the appeals court’s finding, Boyd said the high court could only rely on how the law was actually worded, not on a litigant’s interpretation of what the legislators may have meant to say.

“We disagree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the family’s proposed construction is reasonable,” Boyd wrote. “Based on section 74.153’s text and context, we conclude that Dr. (Marc) Wilson offers the only reasonable construction.”

According to the opinion written by Boyd, the parents of a baby boy born in 2011 at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Denton filed medical malpractice claims against the hospital, Dr. Marc Wilson and OB/GYN Specialists PLLC after the baby’s shoulder was allegedly injured during the delivery process.

The high court’s opinion said the baby’s mother checked into the hospital the night before the pre-scheduled induced labor.

“The process the next day was initially uneventful,” the opinion said. “But at the time of actual delivery, the baby had difficulty moving through the birth canal.”

The opinion states Wilson had to reposition the baby’s arm in the birth canal because the baby’s shoulder was stuck in the mother’s pelvis, resulting in injuries to the nerves in the baby’s shoulder.

In their malpractice lawsuit, the parents alleged that Wilson and the nurse who assisted with the delivery “negligently performed the maneuvers that ultimately dislodged the baby’s shoulder,” the opinion said, although Wilson disputed those claims and said he and the nurse were not responsible for the shoulder injury.

In addition, the opinion said Wilson argued that the Act states that, since the birth took place in the hospital’s obstetrics ward, the parents can only seek damages for “willful and wanton negligence.”

Although a trial court agreed with Wilson’s assessment of the incident and granted a partial judgment in his favor, the appeals court reversed that ruling, saying “the Act does not require the family to prove willful and wanton negligence.”

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