The Texas Supreme Court declined Friday to toss a $10.3 million verdict against a hospital operator for negligence that caused a baby to be born with cerebral palsy, but said a state trial court wrongly ordered $7 million of the verdict be paid as a lump sum.
Ordering a Cameron County District Court judge to come up with a new periodic payment plan, the justices held in a unanimous decision the court was wrong to order Columbia Valley Healthcare System LLP, which operates Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, Texas, to pay a lump sum of roughly $7 million, plus five annual payments of $604,000.
The court’s original payment plan was improper under Texas’ periodic payment statute because it contradicted the jury’s findings, which awarded separate damages amounts based on the baby’s age. The lump sum amount also violated the statute’s requirement that periodic payments cease upon the recipient’s death, the justices said.
“Beyond being an abuse of discretion to structure periodic payments in a way that contravenes the jury’s verdict, it is an abuse of discretion to impose a lump-sum payment without evidence supporting the need for an immediate payment of a lump-sum payment,” Justice Evan A. Young wrote for the court.
The justices ordered the trial court to develop a new payment plan in line with the court’s May 2020 ruling in Regent Care of San Antonio LP v. Robert H. Detrick et al., which established that a court can order an award of future medical expenses to be paid periodically either in whole or in part as long as the decision is supported by evidence.
The Regent Care decision came out after the trial judge in this case had created the payment plan for Columbia Valley.
Both parties will be allowed to suggest their preferred payment plan, the high court ruled Friday, and should be allowed to argue in favor of further evidence that won’t contradict the jury’s findings, but will help the court determine the best payment plan.
Ana Ramirez sued Columbia Valley in Cameron County District Court in 2016 on behalf of her son, Alexis Andrade, who was born in 2014 with an umbilical cord wrapped around his throat after an emergency cesarean section, according to court documents.
Ramirez’s lawsuit claimed Alexis, who is referred to in court documents by his initials, suffered severe oxygen loss to his brain during labor, which caused him to be born with cerebral palsy.
Ramirez said the injury could’ve been avoided had nurses not waited nearly half an hour to notify a doctor that her son’s fetal heartbeat was dropping.
A Cameron County jury agreed with Ramirez in 2018, and awarded her and Alexis $9 million for future health care expenses before he turns 18, $1.2 million for future health care expenses after he turns 18 and $620,000 for past medical expenses.
The trial judge later ordered Columbia Valley to pay a lump sum of roughly $7 million into an escrow account, in addition to paying Alexis $604,000 annually for five years. The Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi affirmed the judgment in July 2020 and Columbia Valley appealed to the state supreme court in October 2020.