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Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital v. Ramirez

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 14, 2017

HOUSTON METHODIST WILLOWBROOK HOSPITAL, Appellant
v.
MARY LOU RAMIREZ, Appellee

         On Appeal from the County Civil Court at Law No. 1 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 1077918

          Panel consists of Justices Higley, Massengale, and Lloyd.

          OPINION

          Michael Massengale Justice.

         This is an accelerated appeal from the denial of a motion to dismiss a health care liability claim. Mary Lou Ramirez alleges that Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital is liable for her personal injuries stemming from her slip and fall inside a hospital building. The hospital contends that Ramirez's sole cause of action is a health care liability claim, yet she failed to serve an expert report. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351.

         The outcome turns on whether Ramirez's cause of action is a health care liability claim. It isn't. We therefore affirm.

         Background

         Appellee Mary Lou Ramirez entered Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital in order to receive medical care from her primary-care physician, whose office is on the third floor. Ramirez was suffering from shortness of breath and abdominal pain. During her appointment with her physician, Ramirez was "sent down" to the hospital's first-floor radiology department for a chest x-ray.

         Ramirez took an elevator to the first floor, exited the elevator near the hospital's entry pavilion, and proceeded alone through the pavilion toward the radiology department. While walking between the elevator and the radiology department, Ramirez alleges that she slipped and fell because the floor was being "buff[ed] . . . without any caution/wet floor sign." After falling, Ramirez went to the emergency room and was later transported by wheelchair back to her physician's office to complete her appointment. Her physician's notes about the fall say only that "Pt fell on her way to xray - sts she slipped on water, she was taken to the er and had xrays."

         Ramirez sued the hospital, alleging that it "negligently permitted the floor to become slippery, " "negligently or willfully allowed such condition to continue, " and "negligently or willfully failed to warn" of such a condition. The hospital moved to dismiss. It contended that Ramirez's sole cause of action is a health care liability claim. If so, Ramirez should have served an expert report within 120 days after the hospital filed its answer, which she failed to do. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.351(a). After a hearing, the trial court denied the hospital's motion to dismiss. The hospital then initiated this accelerated appeal.

         The hospital asserts that Ramirez's cause of action is a health care liability claim under two aspects of that term's statutory definition: either a health care liability claim based on a claimed departure from accepted safety standards or one based on "professional or administrative services directly related to health care." See id. § 74.001(a)(13).

         Analysis

         A ruling on a motion to dismiss a health care liability claim pursuant to the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA) is generally reviewed for abuse of discretion. See Am. Transitional Care Ctrs. of Tex., Inc. v. Palacios, 46 S.W.3d 873, 875 (Tex. 2001). However, we review de novo whether a particular cause of action is a health care liability claim. Bioderm Skin Care, LLC v. Sok, 426 S.W.3d 753, 757 (Tex. 2014). In doing so, we "consider the entire record, including the pleadings, motions, responses, and relevant evidence properly admitted." See, e.g., Shah v. Sodexo Servs. of Tex. L.P., 492 S.W.3d 413, 416-17 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, no pet.). The party moving for dismissal bears the burden to prove that the cause of action is a health care liability claim. See Reddy v. Veedell, 509 S.W.3d 435, 438 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, pet. denied) (per curiam).

         A health care liability claim consists of three elements: (1) the claim must be asserted against a doctor or health care provider, (2) it must pertain to "treatment, lack of treatment, or other claimed departure from accepted standards of medical care, or health care, or safety or professional or administrative services directly related to health care, " and (3) the alleged departure must proximately cause injury or death to the claimant. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.001(a)(13). When asserting a health care liability claim, a plaintiff generally must serve an expert report on standard of care, breach, and causation. Id. § 74.351(a), (r)(6). If the plaintiff does not timely serve the expert report, then the court must grant a defendant health care provider's motion to dismiss and award reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs. Id. § 74.351(b). If the record does not affirmatively show that the plaintiff's claims are health care liability claims, the statutory expert-report requirements do not apply. See Ross v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp., 462 S.W.3d 496, 505 (Tex. 2015).

         The hospital contends that Ramirez's cause of action qualifies as a health care liability claim, either as a "safety" claim or as a "professional or ...


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