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Could Texas Caps on Medical Malpractice Suits Lead to More Criminal Cases Against Doctors?

Posted on Friday, February 24th, 2017 at 12:39 am    

The case of Christopher Duntsch, the ex-neurosurgeon who was sentenced to life imprisonment for just one of a number of botched surgeries, may be the start of more to come, if the caps on medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas are retained as low as they are now, claims a medical malpractice attorney.

The attorney, Chris Hamilton, who is a Dallas based attorney, says that when the cap was imposed in 2003 it meant that it became less likely that medical professionals were going to be sued through the civil court. That could mean that they would be more likely to cause harm to others and ultimately only a criminal conviction would stop them.

The Duntsch case

Christopher Duntsch was an up and coming neurosurgeon but something went wrong in his career. He was tried and found guilty by a 12 member jury in Dallas recently. The case that saw him convicted was a botched surgery on an elderly patient, Mary Efurd, that left her bleeding and eventually led to her death.

Efurd’s death was not the only one that was attributed to Duntsch’s botched surgery. Kellie Martin also bled to death in 2012. Several others of Duntsch’s patients were left with serious injuries after his surgery on them.

The jury heard from many of Duntsch’s former colleagues, family and relatives of patients who had suffered.

Duntsch is the first surgeon to have been imprisoned for medical malpractice. It took an hour for the jury to make a decision. The prosecutor, Michelle Schugahart, in her summing up said that Duntsch had continued to ruin lives because of “greed”. She said that that he owed money and being a neurosurgeon meant that he could earn plenty of it.

Duntsch’s defense attorney said that he had become a scapegoat for hospitals and medical establishments that had employed him. Melinda Lehman said that it wasn’t right that these institutions had continued to put Duntsch into operating rooms knowing that he had botched earlier operations just so “that they could continue to make money.”

The cap on medical malpractice lawsuits

Many states have a cap on personal injury lawsuits but the cap is usually imposed on what are termed “non-economic” components. These include such things as “pain and suffering,” “loss of enjoyment of life” and “punitive damages.” Economic components are medical expenses and lost wages or other income which are a direct result of a personal injury. There is not usually any cap put on these as their value can fairly easily be documented accurately.

Texas has a medical malpractice non-economic component cap of $250,000. That means that if a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed, amounts for pain and suffering and any other non-economic components cannot be more than that figure.

According to Chris Hamilton, that figure is too low. He says that because of the full cost of a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is less likely that a lawsuit will be filed because of the cap. He says that this might mean that a doctor or surgeon or any other medical professional could keep causing injury without being stopped by civil action against them. The same goes for medical establishments that might be implicated in the malpractice because they are aware of this happening yet allow it to continue. He claims that supervisors often only realize that there is something seriously wrong when a private lawsuit is filed against a medical professional.

Challenges against the Texas cap have so far failed

Texas has upheld the 2003 cap despite challenges against its constitutionality. Challenges have been successful in several other states. The Texas cap has also not been adjusted for inflation since 2003, 14 years ago and is therefore significantly lower in real terms today than it was when it was imposed.

Call a San Antonio medical malpractice attorney right away if you suspect or know of medical malpractice

Medical malpractice can cause serious injury, long term misery and even death. Call Patino Law Firm in San Antonio on 210-646-9100 to arrange a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Dr Louis Patino is an experienced San Antonio personal injury attorney with extensive experience in the medical field.