A Texas teenager born with severe brain damage is unable to sue her El Paso doctor and hospital for her birth-related injuries. The reason? Her mother waited too long to file suit, the Texas Supreme Court ruled this month.
In December of 1996, Elizabeth Rivera – nine months pregnant and complaining of a fever and cough – visited Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso. She was seen by Dr. Michael Compton but was sent home without obstetrical examination. The next day she returned to the hospital because of decreased fetal movement, and her daughter was delivered by emergency cesarean section. According to Rivera’s lawsuit, the girl suffered permanent brain damage due to a lack of oxygen.
Now a handicapped teenager, Madeline Rodriquez has been denied compensation for her injuries.
The 8-1 Texas Supreme Court ruling upheld a 2003 tort-reform law known as the statute of repose, which strictly bans medical malpractice lawsuits filed more than 10 years after an injury.
Madeline’s lawyers argued that minors can’t file suit in Texas and must have an adult acting on their behalf. However, if that adult fails to act in the child’s best interest, the teen should have the right file a lawsuit herself, as guaranteed by the Texas Constitution’s open-courts provision. Furthermore, the law’s 10-year deadline was passed seven years after the girl’s birth.
The Supreme Court rejected those claims, ruling that the open-courts provision applies only to those who are “diligent in bringing suit.” The Court also stated that just because the law is backdated doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional – it was enacted in the public’s best interest and therefore it will hold.
Writing in opposition, Justice Debra Lehrmann criticized the majority for upholding a “harsh” 10-year deadline to children “under the false notion that all parents can and do adequately protect their children.”