Texas Damages Row to sue absent judges after SCOTUS decision

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A recent United States Supreme Court ruling that Texas state court judges were not appropriate defendants in a case challenging a state abortion law led a federal court to release two lawyers in an action seeking to invalidate a ceiling for damages for medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice victims whose rewards face severely reduced due to Texas’ $ 250,000 limit on non-economic damages in health care liability cases want the U.S. District Court of Western District of Texas declares the cap invalid under federal constitutional law.

They asked the court to prevent two state court judges, Amy Clark Meachum and Jan Soifer, from applying the cap in cases before them – a remedy that is likely no longer available under the ruling. the Supreme Court in Whole woman’s health c. Jackson, in which providers are fighting a law that bans abortions as early as six weeks pregnant.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted the plaintiffs’ request to remove Meachum and Soifer from prosecution on December 21.

Non-economic damages are awarded for injuries that are difficult to quantify, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, dismemberment, embarrassment and humiliation.

A final victory for the plaintiffs would be substantial and more than likely would be considered by the Supreme Court. If upheld on appeal, it could help overturn non-economic damage caps in more than 20 states.

Soon on test bench

The order for the release of the judges comes just weeks before a trial before the bench scheduled for January 7 in the case.

This is a law that means medical malpractice claimants in Texas can recover, at most, $ 250,000 in non-economic damages from a physician and up to $ 250,000 per health facility up to to a maximum of $ 500,000.

This is not a lot compared to the money awarded by juries in some cases. For example, a Texas appeals court upheld the reduction from $ 11 million for uneconomic damages to $ 250,000 in the case of a man whose arms and legs were amputated due to ” negligent treatment by a doctor of an ARM infection.

Retention clause

Plaintiffs must convince Yeakel to break new constitutional ground and maintain that the preservation clause of the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution applies to the state.

The preservation clause says that the right to a jury trial in common law civil cases must be preserved. Common law medical malpractice cases have been tried by juries, and damage ceilings interfere with the law because juries set damages, claimants say.

But the Seventh Amendment retention clause has never been applied to states, according to briefs filed by medical providers, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and the Texas Hospital Association, who are defending the cap.

Law change needed?

The Bill of Rights prohibits the federal government from interfering with certain legal rights. It does not extend to states except to the extent that those rights were incorporated into the 14th Amendment.

Most of the rights listed in those First 10 Amendments were incorporated into the 14th Amendment. Thus, states can be prosecuted under the due process clause for alleged violations.

But the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases is among the few exceptions, the Supreme Court has said.

Complainants argued that it was time to correct this oversight, as precedents rejecting the incorporation of Seventh Amendment rights are no longer good law. These decisions “predate the era of selective incorporation,” recognized the country’s highest court in McDonald v. City of Chicago.

In Mcdonald’s, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is applicable to states through the 14th Amendment. He stressed that “rights which are” fundamental to the nation’s orderly liberty plan “or which are” deeply rooted in the history and tradition of that nation “are applied appropriately to states,” the complainants said. .

There is no doubt that the right to a civil jury trial would pass the test, the plaintiffs said. This is fundamental and essential for a fair trial, they said.

Current ceiling of previous favors

But precedents for refusing to apply the Seventh Amendment to states are still valid, defenders of the cap argued in separate briefs. Another Texas federal court dismissed an earlier challenge to the state’s cap based on that precedent.

Paxton argued that Yeakel should dismiss the case because the tribunal is bound by previous Supreme Court rulings. Subsequent court cases, including Mcdonald’s, did not repudiate its previous decisions, he said.

The providers added that the drafters never intended the Seventh Amendment to apply to states. The Texas cap in no way violates the Seventh Amendment, they also said.

Applying the Seventh Amendment to states would significantly alter state civil procedures, the THA said.

Recognizable precedents

Supreme Court precedents can be distinguished, the plaintiffs said. One case from the 1930s, for example, involved the Seventh Amendment review clause, not the retention clause, in the context of a criminal claim for double jeopardy.

The country’s highest court also said in 1969 that the rulings rejecting the incorporation of Seventh Amendment rights into the 14th Amendment “represented an approach to fundamental constitutional rights which recent rulings of this court rejected,” according to the submission of trial of the plaintiffs.

PC Constitutional Litigation Center; Hampton and King; Perdue & Clore LLP; Maloney Law Group PLLC; Brown, Christie & Green; Lyon & Lyon PC; Whitehurst, Harkness, Brees, Cheng, Alsaffar, Higginbotham & Jacob PLLC; Ross Law Group SARL; Ryan Krebs, from Austin; Winckler & Harvey LLP; and McGehee, Chang, Landgraf, Feiler represent the patients.

The Texas attorney general’s office represents the state. Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP represents the Texas Hospital Association. Cooper & Scully PC represents the medical defendants.

The case is Winnett v. Frank, WD Tex., N ° 20-cv-1155, order dismissing the judicial defendants 12/21/21.


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