Last week Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital settled the malpractice claims brought by the family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died of Ebola because of serial mistakes the Dallas facility made.
Although the terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, the family’s attorney, according to the Los Angeles Times, said it was comparable to what a jury might have decided in a civil lawsuit. In Texas, of course, that’s not much – it’s one of many states that cap malpractice judgments. In the Lone Star state, the maximum a harmed party may receive for pain and suffering against a physician is $250,000, and damages against a hospital are the same amount.
But the fast resolution tells a story beyond the fact that mistakes were made that demanded redress for the patient’s family. The underlying message is, that for all its initial missteps we blogged about last month (See “Ebola Patient’s ER Discharge Was Classic Malpractice”), ultimately the hospital did the right thing: The chief executive apologized to the family, and again publicly in a letter printed in local newspapers.
And when the settlement was announced, hospital officials repeated the apology in no uncertain terms.
Capping the amount aggrieved parties may receive as a result of medical malpractice is unfair, and undermines justice, especially when the amounts are as low as Duncan’s relatives presumably received. As PopTort, the civil justice blog, noted last week, Texas law essentially immunizes hospitals, which doesn’t exactly incentivize them to reduce errors and promote patient safety.
But at least the dirty laundry was washed with dispatch. We can only hope Presbyterian Hospital continues to do the right thing: Don’t screw up, and when you do, don’t dance around the truth – acknowledge what happened, who got hurt and make a meaningful gesture to make it better.