The Dallas Court of Appeals last Monday held that the heightened standard of proof for malpractice claims against emergency medical care providers was constitutional, reaching the same result as a prior opinion from the Eastland Court of Appeals.  In Gardner v. Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, No. 05-11-00758, 2013 WL 2389854 (Tex. App.—Dallas June 3, 2013), the plaintiffs appealed a take-nothing judgment in favor of an emergency care provider, arguing that the liability standard in Section 74.153 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that by dividing plaintiffs between those who received emergency care in facilities such as hospital emergency departments and those who receive emergency care in non-covered facilities, the legislature acted arbitrarily, unreasonably, and without a rational relation to a legitimate state interest.

Under the rational basis review standard, the Court of Appeals needed only to determine whether “any reasonably conceivable state of facts … could provide a rational basis for this classification.”  The Court, therefore, reviewed the history of Texas’ 2003 tort reform, enacted to deal with a crisis in medical malpractice insurance identified by the legislature.  The tort reform effort, the legislature found, would “have a positive effect on the rates charged by insurers for medical professional liability insurance.”  The special standard of proof for emergency care providers was included “to encourage physicians and other health care providers to provide emergency medical care.”

The Dallas Court then looked to Dill v. Fowler, a 2008 opinion from the Eastland Court of Appeals that also considered an equal protection challenge to Section 74.153.  That court found a rational basis for the statute.  Similarly, the Dallas court agreed that the provider had demonstrated a rational relationship to Texas’ legitimate interests, upheld the statute, and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

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