Texas Supreme Court Lets Liability Protections Stand
By Joey Berlin

Perkins_caseIn a legal victory for the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Alliance for Patient Access (TAPA), a Texas Supreme Court decision keeps in place liability protections for physicians employed by government entities, such as state medical schools.

Thanks to the state high court’s decision in Perkins v. Skapek, physicians employed by a government institution still can perform clinical duties at a non-government facility without giving up immunity from lawsuits.

The Supreme Court declined earlier this month to hear an appeal in the case, in which the parents of a deceased patient sued 10 government-employed physicians as individuals. The decision came after TMA, TAPA, the Texas Hospital Association, and the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the physicians involved.

The case stems from the 2012 death of a 16-year-old at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. The boy’s parents sued the physicians for negligence, alleging the child died from complications from a nonstandard chemotherapy treatment. The doctors claimed they were entitled to dismissal of the suit because they were employees of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Under the medical tort reforms of 2003, employees of governmental entities in Texas have personal immunity from lawsuits.

The parents had appealed a decision from the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas, which found the physicians were acting as employees of UT Southwestern when they treated the patient. The parents argued that because the physicians provided the care at a non-government hospital and had accepted the bylaws of its medical staff, their actions were controlled by Children’s Medical Center. Therefore, they argued, the physicians couldn’t legally be considered UT Southwestern employees and weren’t entitled to immunity.

But as TAPA noted after the Supreme Court’s decision, “Current Texas law requires patients to sue a governmental hospital or hospital district for complaints about the physician’s treatment instead of the physician personally if the hospital or hospital district controlled the details of the physician’s employment.” In the friend-of-the-court brief filed in February, TMA, TAPA, and the others argued the university “controlled the details” of the physicians’ work and “were in the paid employment of UT [Southwestern] for ‘100 percent’ of their time.”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Perkins family has the option of asking the high court for a rehearing. An attorney for the family didn’t respond to a call from Texas Medicine earlier this week.


Last Updated On

May 03, 2018

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Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

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Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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