Suppose you are unlucky enough to be the victim of medical malpractice and your attorney brings suit against several of your health care providers. Some of them settle with you while others insist on proceeding to trial, where you win a sizable verdict. Since Texas tort law doesn’t allow you to get a double recovery for the same injuries, the court must reduce the verdict to take account of the amounts you got in settlement.
But how should the court calculate your actual damages once the jury has rendered its verdict? That issue was decided in Regent Care of San Antonio, L.P. v. Dietrich, a recent Texas Supreme Court case .
In Texas medical malpractice trials, the jury decides not only how much to award in damages but also how much each party is at fault. Prior to trial, a non-settling defendant may choose how the court will give it credit for the settlement. The options are to reduce the verdict by (1) the sum of the dollar amounts of all the settlements or (2) the percentage of fault attributed to the settling defendants. If the defendant doesn’t choose, the court applies the first option.
In the case at hand, Regent Care, the only non-settling defendant, chose a dollar-for-dollar settlement credit. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $3,635,000 in economic damages and $10,250,000 in noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering). Based on these figures, the trial court calculated that economic damages accounted for 27 percent and noneconomic damages for 73 percent of the plaintiffs’ recovery. It split the settlement credit in the same proportion, leaving plaintiffs with $3,149,371 in economic and $8,937,004 in noneconomic damages.
However, Texas law provides that each plaintiff may recover no more than $250,000 in noneconomic damages from each health care institution (such as a hospital or assisted living center) and from all other health care providers (such as individual physicians and their offices).
The court thus reduced noneconomic damages to $250,000, leaving the plaintiffs with a $3,399,371 verdict. Regent Care appealed, arguing that the court should have applied the $250,000 noneconomic cap before applying the settlement credit, which would have reduced the verdict further, but the state Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s method.
As complicated as that sounds, it’s only part of the intricacies of medical malpractice cases. Fortunately, the attorneys of Lyons & Lyons, in San Antonio, Texas, have gained an in-depth knowledge of the field from more than 90 years of combined litigation experience in this area of law. For more information or to discuss whether you have a medical malpractice case, call us at 210-225-5251 or contact us online.