Lucas v. U.S., No. C-6181

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtKILGARLIN; GONZALEZ; PHILLIPS; GONZALEZ; CULVER; PHILLIPS
Citation757 S.W.2d 687
PartiesRichard LUCAS et al., Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. C-6181
Decision Date11 May 1988

Page 687

757 S.W.2d 687
56 USLW 2671
Richard LUCAS et al., Petitioners,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.
No. C-6181.
Supreme Court of Texas.
May 11, 1988.
Concurring Opinion of Justice Culver May 25, 1988.
Dissenting Opinion of Chief Justice Phillips Sept. 21, 1988.

Walter L. Boyaki, Miranda & Boyaki, El Paso, for Lucas.

Jim Mattox, Atty. Gen., Austin.

Irene M. Solet, Bruce G. Forrest, Robert S. Greenspan, Civ. Div., Appellate Staff, Helen M. Eversberg, U.S. Atty., James M. Spears, Deputy Asst. Atty. Gen., Robert S. Greenspan, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civ. Div., Washington, D.C., for U.S.

KILGARLIN, Justice.

This is the first case to come to us on questions certified by a federal appellate court. See Lucas v. United States, 807 F.2d 414 (5th Cir.1986), questions certified, 811 F.2d 270 (5th Cir.1987). Pursuant to Tex. Const. art. V, § 3-c, we have jurisdiction to answer the questions certified, which are as follows:

Whether the limitation on medical malpractice damages in Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. art. 4590i §§ 11.02 and 11.03 (Vernon Supp.1986) is consistent with the Texas Constitution, and if so, whether it applies to limit the liability of each defendant rather than the recovery of each claimant.

For the reasons stated in this opinion, we answer that the damages limitations contained in sections 11.02 and 11.03 of article 4590i violate article I, § 13 of the Texas Constitution. It is therefore unnecessary for us to answer the additional question certified to us by the Fifth Circuit.

Our constitutional authority to answer questions of state law certified by federal appellate courts is of relatively recent origin. In 1985, Texas voters approved an amendment to our state constitution which became article V, section 3-c. The amendment became effective January 1, 1986, and our court thereafter promulgated an implementing rule as authorized by the constitution. See Tex. Const. art. V., §§ 3-c(b) and 31; Tex.R.App.P. 114. Because this is the first case to come to us under the new certification procedures, for historical purposes we will first review briefly the steps employed by this court in considering the Fifth Circuit's certification order and, ultimately, agreeing to answer the questions certified.

Upon receipt of the certified questions from the Fifth Circuit, the case was docketed and assigned a number in normal sequential order. Notice of the docketing was furnished the Attorney General, as required by Tex.R.App.P. 114(f) (the Attorney General did not intervene). Thereafter, the court, by majority vote, determined that it would accept the question and render an answer. At that time, the case

Page 688

was set for oral argument and the court determined to allow Lucas, who was urging the unconstitutionality of the statute, the role of petitioner even though the United States of America was the appealing party in the Fifth Circuit. Argument in the case was allowed as in any other cause before the court.

To put the facts of this case in perspective, we quote at length from the original opinion of the Fifth Circuit:

When fourteen-month-old Christopher Lucas developed a swollen neck and a fever after a family outing, his parents took him to the William Beaumont Army Medical Center near El Paso, Texas, for diagnosis and treatment. An army doctor determined that the child had a cyst in his thyroglossal duct and ordered an injection of 600,000 units of Bicillin LA, a penicillin product manufactured and packaged in its own syringe by Wyeth Laboratories.

A hospital nurse gave Christopher the shot in his right buttock with a 1 1/4 "' needle that was fully inserted. Christopher's father testified that he saw a thin line of blood appear in the tube containing the medication when the nurse aspirated the plunger before injecting the medication into the baby. Blood appeared at the injection site, and within a few moments, Christopher's legs became mottled. The doctors were summoned. They concluded that the baby was having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic and gave injections to combat it.

Several hours later, Christopher's parents noticed that his legs were not moving as they usually did when he cried. Tests conducted during the next several days indicated paralysis. An operation to remove a tumor suspected to be pressing on the nerves controlling the child's legs determined that the paralysis was the result of blood starvation of the nerves caused by a blockage created when the Bicillin LA was injected directly into an artery. Tragically, the paralysis is permanent.

Christopher and his parents sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The district court held that the injection was negligently administered and awarded the parents $498,628.72 as the present value of the past and future medical expenses they face in caring for Christopher until his majority. While the district court did not detail its calculation, the amount of the award is consistent with the total-offset method of discounting. The court also awarded to Christopher $350,000.00 as the present value of the future medical expenses he will have after his eighteenth birthday, and $600,000.00 as the present value of the impairment of his future earning capacity. Finally, the court awarded Christopher $1,500,000.00 for pain and suffering. The district court then reduced the award by the $400,000.00 paid by Weyth [sic] Labs to the Lucases in settlement of a state court suit.

The district court refused to apply Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. art. 4590i (Vernon Supp.1986) to limit the nonmedical damages, stating that the provision did not apply to hospitals operated by the United States. In an amended judgment, the court ordered that interest on a judgment against the United States be paid only as it accrues after a claim is filed with the Comptroller General and not from the date of judgment. See 31 U.S.C. § 1304(b)(1)(A). The court awarded no damages for the parents' separate claims for pain and suffering.

Lucas v. United States, 807 F.2d 414, 416 (5th Cir.1986), questions certified, 811 F.2d 270 (5th Cir.1987).

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that the liability limit of article 4590i, section 11.02, does apply to federally operated hospitals and that its application was consistent with the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution. 807 F.2d at 417, 421-22; 811 F.2d at 271. Our question, then, is whether the limits of liability for health care providers set out in that statute and/or section 11.03 are consistent with the Texas Constitution. Those sections provide in pertinent part:

Limit on Civil Liability

Sec. 11.02. (a) In an action on a health care liability claim where final

Page 689

judgment is rendered against a physician or health care provider, the limit of civil liability for damages of the physician or health care provider shall be limited to an amount not to exceed $500,000.

(b) Subsection (a) of this section does not apply to the amount of damages awarded on a health care liability claim for the expenses of necessary medical, hospital, and custodial care received before judgment or required in the future for treatment of the injury.

Alternative Partial Limit on Civil Liability

Sec. 11.03. In the event that Section 11.02(a) of this subchapter is stricken from this subchapter or is otherwise invalidated by a method other than through legislative means, the following shall become effective:

In an action on a health care liability claim where final judgment is rendered against a physician or health care provider, the limit of civil liability of the physician or health care provider for all past and future noneconomic losses recoverable by or on behalf of any injured person and/or the estate of such person, including without limitation as applicable past and future physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and suffering, consortium, disfigurement, and any other nonpecuniary damage, shall be limited to an amount not to exceed $150,000.

Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. art. 4590i, §§ 11.02, 11.03. The limits in both sections are not absolute but instead increase or decrease depending on the consumer price index published by the federal government. Id. at §§ 11.01, 11.04.

At least thirteen states other than Texas have enacted damage limitation provisions into their medical malpractice statutes. Each statute has different characteristics, and the state courts have divided on the constitutionality of the various caps. See, e.g., Smith v. Department of Insurance, 507 So.2d 1080, 1087-89 (Fla.1987) ($450,000 limit on noneconomic damages violated "open courts" provision of Florida Constitution); Wright v. Central Du Page Hospital Ass'n, 63 Ill.2d 313, 347 N.E.2d 736, 743 (1976) ($500,000 cap constituted "special law" in violation of Illinois Constitution); 1 Carson v. Maurer, 120 N.H. 925, 424 A.2d 825, 836-38 (1980) ($250,000 limit on noneconomic damages violated equal protection guaranteed by New Hampshire Constitution); Arneson v. Olson, 270 N.W.2d 125, 135-36 (N.D.1978) ($300,000 ceiling violated equal protection clause of North Dakota Constitution); Duren v. Suburban Community Hospital, 24 Ohio Misc.2d 25, 482 N.E.2d 1358, 1361-63 (C.P.1985) ($200,000 limit on general damages violated Ohio and federal constitutions); Fein v. Permanente Medical Group, 38 Cal.3d 137, 211 Cal.Rptr. 368, 695 P.2d 665, 679-84 (1985) ($250,000 ceiling on noneconomic damages held constitutional); Johnson v. St. Vincent Hospital, Inc., 273 Ind. 374, 404 N.E.2d 585, 598-601 (1980) ($500,000 cap upheld); Sibley v. Board of Supervisors, 462 So.2d 149, 154-58 (La.1985) ($500,000 cap upheld) modified on reh'g, 477 So.2d 1094, 1109-10 (La.1985) (latter opinion ordering conditional remand on state equal protection challenge); Prendergast v. Nelson, 199 Neb. 97, 256 N.W.2d 657, 668-69 (1977) ($500,000 cap upheld in plurality opinion joined by only three judges, with three others dissenting as to...

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121 practice notes
  • Verba v. Ghaphery, No. 27464.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 19, 2001
    ...an independent study that showed that less than .6 of all claims brought were for more than $100,000. Lucas v. United States, (Tex.1988), 757 S.W.2d 687, 691. According to three amici arguing against the statute's constitutionality, a 1987 study by the Insurance Service Organization, the ra......
  • Smith v. Schulte
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • August 18, 1995
    ...juxtaposition, would be to vacate our judicial role. Brannigan v. Usitalo, 134 N.H. 50, 587 A.2d 1232 (1991); Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687, 691 "We conclude that the correlation between the damages cap imposed by § 6-5-544(b) and the reduction of health care costs to the citizens ......
  • Commission for Lawyer Discipline v. Benton, No. 97-0228
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • December 31, 1998
    ...generally followed federal equal protection jurisprudence in interpreting our own equal protection provision, see Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687, 703-08 (Tex.1988) (Phillips, C.J., dissenting) (collecting cases), and Benton has not argued that we should apply a different standard un......
  • Weiner v. Wasson, No. 94-0541
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 21, 1995
    ...abolition of a common-law cause of action was a reasonable exercise of police power. Most notably, in the case of Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687, 702 (Tex.1988) (Phillips, C.J., dissenting), Chief Justice Phillips urged the Court to adhere to the test clearly articulated in Lebohm. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
121 cases
  • Verba v. Ghaphery, No. 27464.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 19, 2001
    ...an independent study that showed that less than .6 of all claims brought were for more than $100,000. Lucas v. United States, (Tex.1988), 757 S.W.2d 687, 691. According to three amici arguing against the statute's constitutionality, a 1987 study by the Insurance Service Organization, the ra......
  • Smith v. Schulte
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • August 18, 1995
    ...juxtaposition, would be to vacate our judicial role. Brannigan v. Usitalo, 134 N.H. 50, 587 A.2d 1232 (1991); Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687, 691 "We conclude that the correlation between the damages cap imposed by § 6-5-544(b) and the reduction of health care costs to the citizens ......
  • Commission for Lawyer Discipline v. Benton, No. 97-0228
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • December 31, 1998
    ...generally followed federal equal protection jurisprudence in interpreting our own equal protection provision, see Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687, 703-08 (Tex.1988) (Phillips, C.J., dissenting) (collecting cases), and Benton has not argued that we should apply a different standard un......
  • Weiner v. Wasson, No. 94-0541
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 21, 1995
    ...abolition of a common-law cause of action was a reasonable exercise of police power. Most notably, in the case of Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687, 702 (Tex.1988) (Phillips, C.J., dissenting), Chief Justice Phillips urged the Court to adhere to the test clearly articulated in Lebohm. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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