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Wheeler v. Methodist Richardson Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

December 7, 2017


         On Appeal from the 416th Judicial District Court Collin County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 416-01327-2016

          Before Justices Lang-Miers, Brown, and Boatright



         In this health care liability case, the trial court dismissed the claims without granting appellants a thirty-day extension to cure deficiencies in their expert reports because the initial reports did not contain any opinion regarding causation. We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion, and we reverse and remand.


         Larry J. Wheeler was admitted to Methodist Richardson Medical Center and was diagnosed with narrowing of a carotid artery and occlusion of a coronary artery. He subsequently underwent surgery on a carotid artery and coronary surgery. After surgery and the removal of mechanical ventilation, Larry Wheeler suffered from lack of oxygen to the brain. Ultimately, the family decided to remove him from ventilator support. He died the following day.

         Debbie Wheeler, individually and as the representative of the estate of Larry J. Wheeler, Kim Adams, and Kristie Stewart (Wheeler Parties) sued Methodist Richardson Medical Center, Methodist Health System Foundation (Methodist Parties), and Jose A. Gutierrez, M.D.[1] under the wrongful death and survival statutes, asserting claims of medical negligence and gross negligence against all three defendants and respondeat superior against the Methodist Parties.[2]See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 71.001-.011, 71.021 (West 2008) (wrongful death and survival statutes).

         The Wheeler Parties alleged that the Methodist Parties were negligent "in that the nurses failed to institute a number of interventions . . . to correct the critically low oxygen saturations[, ]"[3] that they should be liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, and that their negligent acts caused Larry Wheeler's injuries, death, and damages.

         The Wheeler Parties timely filed and served expert reports from Jay S. Ellis Jr., M.D. and Claudia Estrada, R.N.[4] See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351 (West Supp. 2016); see also id. § 74.351(i) (providing a claimant may satisfy the requirement of serving an expert report by "serving reports of separate experts").

         The Methodist Parties filed objections to both reports.[5] Among other objections, the Methodist Parties contended that Ellis's original report did not "meet the minimum standards set forth by the Texas Supreme Court" because it did not "address in any manner either" that the Wheeler Parties' "claim against Methodist is meritorious" or "how Methodist's conduct caused the injuries suffered by Mr. Wheeler." They argued that the report "must be considered no report at all."

         The Wheeler Parties requested that, if the trial court concluded that any element of their expert reports was insufficient, the trial court grant them a thirty-day extension to cure the reports. The Wheeler Parties argued that, "[a]lthough Dr. Ellis's initial report does not address causation as to [Methodist] and its staff, one missing element does not cause two reports to become no report" but, instead, "prompts the Court to ask, as required by Scoresby [sic], whether the report's deficiencies are curable." See Scoresby v. Santillan, 346 S.W.3d 546, 549 (Tex. 2011). They argued that when a deficient expert report is curable, under the Texas Supreme Court precedents of Scoresby and Ogletree v. Matthews, 262 S.W.3d 316, 320-21 (Tex. 2007), "the statute's extension is not only available, but virtually mandatory when requested." The Wheeler Parties attached Ellis's amended report to their brief concerning the thirty-day extension, contending that it addressed causation and demonstrated that the deficiency in his previous report is curable. The Methodist Parties also objected to the amended report on the grounds that Ellis did not adequately establish his qualifications in the amended report and the report was insufficient and conclusory.

         The trial court sustained the Methodist Parties' objections to Ellis's and Estrada's original reports and concluded that "the documents served by" the Wheeler Parties "do not meet the essential elements required of an expert report as that term is defined pursuant to Chapter 74[.]" The order stated that "[s]pecifically, there is no report that addresses the required element of causation as it pertains to" the Methodist Parties. The trial court concluded that "[t]he absence of an essential element amounts to no report" and ordered the claims alleged against the Methodist Parties dismissed with prejudice. The trial court did not make any determinations about the amended report.

         The Wheeler Parties filed this interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court's order granting the motion to dismiss.

         Standard ...

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