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Tanhui v. Rhodes-Madison

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

September 18, 2019

EDUARDO TANHUI, M.D. AND EAST TEXAS MEDICAL SPECIALTIES, P.A., APPELLANTS
v.
MINNIE RHODES-MADISON, APPELLEE

          Appeal from the 145th District Court of Nacogdoches County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. C1833683)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GREG NEELEY, JUSTICE

         In this healthcare liability suit brought by Minnie Rhodes-Madison against Eduardo Tanhui, M.D. and East Texas Medical Specialties, P.A., Appellants challenge the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss pursuant to Section 74.351 of the Texas Medical Liability Act.[1]In two issues, Appellants contend that Rhodes-Madison's expert is not qualified, and his report does not comply with the statutory requirements. We affirm.

         Background

         Rhodes-Madison, who had a history of lower back pain and leg pain, was a patient of Dr. Tanhui from 2012 through early 2016. He diagnosed her with lumbar spinal stenosis and radiculopathy and treated her with injections of the lumbar spine. On February 2, 2016, Dr. Tanhui attempted, unsuccessfully, to implant a spinal cord stimulator. After the attempted procedure, Rhodes-Madison experienced severe left leg pain and weakness, causing difficulty walking. In contrast to her condition before the attempted procedure, after the attempt she can no longer independently perform the activities of daily living. She underwent spinal surgery, performed by a different doctor, on April 25, 2016.

          Rhodes-Madison sued Dr. Tanhui and East Texas Medical Specialties, P.A. for negligence, seeking damages and exemplary damages caused by the February 2, 2016 attempted procedure. She alleged that Dr. Tanhui failed to order appropriate preoperative imaging, failed to immediately terminate the procedure upon encountering the very tight epidural space, repeatedly attempted to implant the spinal cord stimulator although her anatomy rendered her unsuitable for the device, attempted to perform a procedure for which he lacked the requisite skill, and caused injury and permanent disability. She alleged that East Texas Medical Specialties, P.A. is vicariously liable for Dr. Tanhui's breach of the duty of care.

         As required by Section 74.351(a), Rhodes-Madison furnished the expert report and curriculum vitae of her expert, Dr. Miguel de la Garza. Appellants objected to the report and requested dismissal of the case. The trial court sustained the objections, but declined to dismiss, instead allowing Rhodes-Madison thirty days to amend her report. Rhodes-Madison filed a supplemental expert report, and Appellants filed renewed objections to the expert report, again seeking dismissal of the case. The trial court denied the renewed objections. Appellants appealed the ruling.[2]

         Expert Report

         In their first issue, Appellants contend that Dr. de la Garza's report is deficient because it does not meet the statute's causation requirement. They argue that the report contains no factual explanation of how and why it can be said that Dr. Tanhui's negligence caused the surgery to fail. In their second issue, Appellants assert that Dr. de la Garza is not qualified to submit an expert report in this case because he has never performed back surgery.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to dismiss based on the adequacy of a Section 74.351 expert report for an abuse of discretion. Abshire v. Christus Health Se. Tex., 563 S.W.3d 219, 223 (Tex. 2018) (per curiam). In analyzing a report's sufficiency under this standard, we consider only the information contained within the four corners of the report. Id. A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts without reference to guiding rules or principles. Van Ness v. ETMC First Physicians, 461 S.W.3d 140, 142 (Tex. 2015).

          Applicable Law

         The Texas Medical Liability Act requires a health care claimant to furnish a written expert report early in the proceedings summarizing the applicable standards of care and explaining how the provider's alleged negligence caused the claimant's injury. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 74.351(a), (r)(6). The purpose of the expert report requirement is to weed out frivolous malpractice claims in the early stages of litigation. Abshire, 563 S.W.3d at 223. The Act provides a mechanism for dismissal of ...


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