A patient arrived at an emergency room with severe shoulder pain. The ER took vital signs, which were entered into a sepsis screen, and assigned an acuity level. The vitals were normal and no sepsis indicated, so the patient was assigned a stable level of acuity. He then sat in the waiting room for an hour-and-a-half, after which he was seen by a nurse and a PA. He was diagnosed with a neck muscle spasm, prescribed pain meds, and sent home. His condition worsened over the weekend, and on Monday his wife took him to the ER at Baylor Surgical Hospital. He was septic shock and suffered from systems failure as a result of MRSA. He was transferred to the ICU at Baylor All Saints Medical Center, where he died the next day.
These are the facts in Angela Arredondo, Individually and As Representative of the Estate of Daniel Canales Arredondo, Deceased, and As Next Friend of Leia Arredondo, Individually v. John Timothy Tracy, M.D., Baylor All Saints Medical Center d/b/a Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center—Fort Worth; and Baylor Health Care System d/b/a Baylor Scott & White Health (No. 22-0107). The issue in the case was whether the defendants provided any emergency care, thus invoking the willful and wanton standard under Chapter 74, CPRC. The plaintiff tendered a jury charge asking that question and, depending on the jury’s answer, which standard of care applied. The trial court rejected these questions and submitted only a willful and wanton charge, to which plaintiff objected. The jury answered in the negative, and the trial court accordingly entered a take nothing judgment. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed.
Plaintiff argued that whether a health care defendant provided emergency care is a jury question that if in dispute must be submitted to the jury together with a predicate charge on the standard of liability. She relied on Glenn v. Leal, 596 S.W.3d 769 (Tex. 2020), in which the Court held that the court’s charge should submit an emergency care question to the jury when the defendant health care provider asked for the charge and the trial court refused and submitted only ordinary negligence. That, the Court held, was harmful area. Plaintiff contended that Glenn likewise applied when the plaintiff asked for the submission, which the trial court refused and submitted only the willful and wanton question.
Although we don’t know for sure why SCOTX passed on this case, it must be because the Court did not think Glenn applied. And we can see a good reason for that. The problem in Glenn was that the trial court’s charge foreclosed the jury from considering the emergency care standard altogether. By asking only about ordinary negligence, an affirmative jury answer (along with proximate cause and damages, of course) would lead necessarily to liability, thus evading § 74.153, CPRC. That is not the case here. The trial court submitted an appropriate charge on willful and wanton because that was the predicate question to liability in a case in which, although the plaintiff may have disputed it, all of the care was provided either in the emergency room or the ICU. When the jury found that the hospital had not acted willfully and wantonly, the case was over one way or the other. Even if there might have been an error in the charge, it could not have been harmful.
Sometimes cases declined by SCOTX are as instructive about the law as those they decide, especially when a party tries to get the Court to extend a recent holding to a slightly—but decisively—different set of facts.