The Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals (“Texas Appellate Court”) held in its opinion dated November 23, 2021 in a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit for the death of a premature baby in the NICU: “we conclude the trial court acted within its discretion in concluding the expert report was sufficient to meet the minimum statutory requirements to establish the causal relationship between the failure and the harm alleged.”
The Underlying Facts
After Delaney Cornett and her twin sister were born prematurely, they were placed in the NICU. The parents alleged that Delaney was placed on a breathing machine when she should have been placed on antibiotics for an infection. Four days after Delaney was placed on the breathing machine, a culture was taken, and she was given antibiotics. The next day, Delaney passed away. Delaney’s purported cause of death was septic shock caused by the infection.
Rebekah and Kalum Cornett (Cornetts), individually and as personal representatives of Delaney’s estate, filed suit, asserting wrongful death and survival claims. The Cornetts alleged that Delaney’s doctors, Drs. Harvinder Bedi and Sandip K. Patel and Healthcare Specialists, LLP d/b/a Neonatal Consultants, LLP, were negligent in failing to properly monitor, evaluate, and treat Delaney’s condition in a timely manner.
The Cornetts served the defendants with an expert report authored by Dr. Dale Bull. After the hospital objected to the report and filed a motion to dismiss, the trial court granted the Cornetts’ motion for a thirty-day extension to serve an amended report and denied the motion to dismiss. The Cornetts served an amended expert report, to which the doctors objected. Dr. Bedi and Healthcare Specialists then filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied the motion after which Dr. Bedi and Healthcare Specialists contended that the trial court abused its discretion in denying their motion to dismiss, arguing that the amended expert report is insufficient as to the applicable standard of care, breach of that standard, and causation.
Expert Report Requirement
Under chapter 74 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a claimant in a healthcare liability claim must serve the defendant or the defendant’s attorney one or more expert reports addressing liability and causation for each physician or healthcare provider against whom a liability claim is asserted.
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351(r)(6) defines “expert report” as: “a written report by an expert that provides a fair summary of the expert’s opinions as of the date of the report regarding applicable standards of care, the manner in which the care rendered by the physician or health care provider failed to meet the standards, and the causal relationship between that failure and the injury, harm, or damages claimed.”
The trial court is required to grant a motion challenging the adequacy of an expert report if it is not an objective good faith effort to comply with the statutory definition of an expert report. § 34.351(l), (r)(6). The report must include the expert’s opinion on each of the three main elements: standard of care, breach, and causation. Experts must explain the basis for their statements in the report and link their conclusions to the facts. The report must contain sufficient information to inform the defendant of the specific conduct called into question and provide a basis for the trial court to conclude the claims have merit. Omission of any of the statutory elements prevents the report from being a good faith effort. A report that only states the expert’s conclusions about the standard of care, breach, and causation does not meet the statutory requirements. However, the report may be informal in that the information need not fulfill the same requirements as the evidence offered in a summary judgment proceeding or at trial.
Texas Appellate Court Opinion
The Texas Appellate Court stated: “We conclude that the report is sufficiently detailed as to the standard of care. When read as a whole, the report reveals that the statements regarding standard of care go beyond general, conclusory statements … Bull explained that in his opinion, Delaney’s doctors breached the standard of care in two ways: by failing to find the cause of the abnormal carbon dioxide level and failing to put Delaney on antibiotics that day. Given Bull’s opinion regarding the likelihood that Delaney had an infection, we conclude the report adequately explains how the doctors purportedly failed to meet the standard of care … His conclusion regarding causation—that the failures to immediately test for the cause of the carbon dioxide level, most likely an infection, and administer antibiotics contributed to Delaney’s untimely death—establishes a causal connection between the failure and the harm alleged. See Potts, 392 S.W.3d at 630. Meeting this requirement as to one theory allows the claimant to proceed with the lawsuit. Id. The legislature enacted the expert report requirement to deter frivolous claims, not to require a plaintiff to marshal all the proof necessary to establish causation at trial … Bull was not required to rule out all possible theories of causation at this juncture.”
The Texas Appellate Court held: “The trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the amended expert report is an objective good faith effort to comply with the statutory requirements for an expert report and in denying Bedi and Healthcare Specialists’ motion to dismiss. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the trial court denying the motion to dismiss.”
Source Bedi v. Cornett, No. 14-20-00266-CV.
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