Christus Health Gulf Coast v. Carswell

Justice Johnson (Opinion)

The Texas Supreme Court reversed a judgment against Christus Health Gulf Coast, holding that the plaintiff’s claim for fraud in connection with the deceased patient’s autopsy was a “health care liability claim” under Chapter 74 and was, therefore, subject to a two-year statute of limitations. The plaintiff, Linda Carswell, brought suit against Christus, claiming the hospital committed malpractice in the treatment of her husband, Jerry, and then fraudulently obtained her consent to a private autopsy at a related facility in order to cover up the alleged malpractice. The jury cleared the hospital on the malpractice charges, but awarded plaintiff damages on the claim that the hospital improperly obtained her consent to a private autopsy. The Houston First District Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment in favor of the hospital. It held the post-mortem claims were for “professional or administrative services directly related to health care” that “proximately result[ed] in injury to or death of a claimant” and so fell within the definition of a health care liability claim under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code §74.001(a)(13). The Court distinguished the opinions from lower courts holding that post-mortem claims were not health care liability claims because, in those cases, the plaintiffs were “not complaining that the post-mortem actions of the defendants were taken for the purpose of concealing deficient pre-mortem health care.” The Court also held that, to be “directly related to health care,” the alleged injury does not have to be to a “patient” and need not occur “during or contemporaneously with health care.”

Because the claims were health care liability claims, they were subject to Chapter 74’s two-year statute of limitations and were time barred.