Court's verdict on spider bite likely to bug many operators

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Court's verdict on spider bite likely to bug many operators
Court's verdict on spider bite likely to bug many operators
The death of a nursing home resident from a spider bite is a healthcare liability claim and requires an expert report to be filed as such, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled in July.

Classie Mae Reed was a resident at Omaha Healthcare Center LLC's nursing home in Omaha, TX, where she was bitten by a brown recluse spider in February 2005. She died three months later. Her sister, Wilma Johnson, filed a lawsuit, saying that the home had breached its duty by not inspecting for or cleaning the premises of spiders, and not instituting pest prevention policies.

However, Johnson did not obtain an expert report from a physician attesting to the cause of her sister's death. Texas instituted tort reform in 2003 that created strict requirements for healthcare liability claims, including the need to file an expert report within 120 days of the case filing.

Lower courts said Johnson's claims were not healthcare liability claims and denied Omaha's motion to dismiss based on Johnson's failure to serve the expert report.

However, the Supreme Court wrote in its July 1 decision that “part of the fundamental patient care required of a nursing home is to protect the health and safety of the residents” and that the case was a healthcare liability claim.

However, since Johnson had not filed the expert report, the claim was remanded to trial court, with instructions to dismiss it and consider Omaha's request for attorneys' fees.

“[A] claimant must timely serve a statutory expert report. Johnson did not do so and her claim must be dismissed,” the court ruled.

In a dissent, Justice Debra Lehrmann disagreed with the need for the report. The negligence alleged by Johnson “did not involve defective medical equipment or a lapse in medical judgment, but instead a general, common-sense duty to keep the premises clean and bug-free. This is not a situation where the jury would be aided by expert medical opinion.”