March 15, 2020

In September 2014, the defendant hospital cared for a patient who was infected with the Ebola virus. A nurse who attended the patient at the hospital later visited a bridal shop in Ohio. Upon returning to Dallas, the nurse became ill and was diagnosed as having contracted the virus and recovered after medical treatment.

Ohio health authorities learned that the nurse who had contracted the virus had visited the bridal shop. Those authorities required the shop to close to prevent the virus’s spread. After cleaning the shop to guard against contamination, the shop’s corporate owner reopened it briefly. But the owner later closed the shop permanently when its business did not recover.

The owner sued the hospital, alleging that the hospital failed to prevent transmission of the Ebola virus to the nurse through proper precautions and training, and that the hospital’s negligence caused the shop to close due to health concerns and adverse publicity.

The bridal shop sued the hospital, alleging that hospital officials assured the nurse that it was safe for her to go out in public. The bridal shop alleged that the hospital “controlled the ‘Ebola response’ and management of employees who experienced exposure to the virus at the hospital,” and that in not preventing the spread of the disease, the hospital was negligent.

The defendant hospital moved to dismiss the lawsuit under chapter 74, asserting that the bridal shop alleged a health care liability claim and did not provide a report. The bridal shop argued that chapter 74 is limited to patient claims and, because it is a corporation, it is not a “claimant” covered by the statute. It further argued that its claims are not health care liability claims as the statute defines them.

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss after which the court of appeals reversed, holding that the bridal shop is a “claimant” under the statute, and that its claim against the hospital is a health care liability claim as the statute defines it. Because the bridal shop did not file the required expert report, the court of appeals dismissed the lawsuit. The Texas Supreme Court granted review.

Section 74.001(a)(2) defines a “claimant” as a person, including an estate, who seeks damages for a health care liability claim: “a person, including a decedent’s estate, seeking or who has sought recovery of damages in a health care liability claim. All persons claiming to have sustained damages as the result of the bodily injury or death of a single person are considered a single claimant.”

The Texas Supreme Court stated that the Texas legislature has directed that the definition of “person” includes a corporation, “unless the statute or context in which the word or phrase is used requires a different definition.” Furthermore, the common-law meaning of “person” includes a corporation, and because the Texas Medical Liability Act does not otherwise define “person,” “we use the common-law meaning of “person” in interpreting it.”

The Texas Supreme Court further stated: “A hospital’s alleged negligence in controlling the spread of a virus to its nursing staff and the public, however, implicates safety standards directly related to health care—the care and treatment of an infected patient and “[t]he risk of contamination that [the nurse] presented to the public implicates the execution of the hospital’s health-care-provider duties” … [t]he question of contagion and its prevention in a hospital setting directly relates to public health and health care … [w]e have recognized that treating and preventing a communicable disease in a hospital setting is a duty related to the provision of health care … [a] substantive nexus exists between this health-care-provider duty and [the bridal shop’s] claimed injury—that its store was exposed to the virus through [the nurse], contaminated, and forced to close … we conclude that [the bridal shop] asserts a health care liability claim … claims alleging the negligent provision of health care fall within the Act when the alleged damages stem from health-care-related claims, regardless of the type of injury alleged.”

The Texas Supreme Court held: “[The bridal shop] alleges that the hospital’s departure from accepted safety standards—standards directly related to caring for and treating a patient with a communicable disease—caused its injury. When brought against a hospital, we hold that these allegations state a health care liability claim under the Act. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.”

Source Coming Attractions Bridal and Formal, Inc. v. Texas Health Resources, No. 18-0591.

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