Sunday, June 21, 2009

PUNITIVE DAMAGES (CAP) SEQUEL: Columbia Medical Center v. Hogue III (Tex. 2009)

3 OF 9 SUPREMES ISSUE DISSENT TO CLARIFY THAT THE MANDATE NEEDS NO CLARIFICATION IN RARE CASE IN WHICH SUPREME COURT UPHELD EXEMPLARY DAMAGES IN MED-MAL SUIT - PARTIES HAD A DISPUTE ABOUT HOW TO READ THE MANDATE AND RECALCULATE DAMAGES FOLLOWING DELETION OF LOSS-OF-INHERITANCE DAMAGES BY THE SUPREME COURT.

Columbia Medical Center of Law Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, (Tex. 2009)
No. 04-0575 (Tex. Jun 17, 2009) (Wainwright) (dissenting from majority's denial of petitioner's motion for clarification of the mandate)

FROM THE DISSENTING OPINION: Our original opinion, issued August 29, 2008, reversed $306,393 awarded as damages to the Hogues for loss of inheritance and affirmed the award of exemplary damages, capped by section 41.008 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. 271 S.W.3d at 255, 257. The other amounts awarded as actual damages were not changed. We held that the evidence submitted to the jury was legally insufficient to support an award of damages for loss of inheritance. Id. at 255. However, the loss of inheritance damages had been included as economic damages in the trial court’s judgment to calculate the maximum amount of punitive damages that could be awarded under the applicable statutory cap. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.008(b). Under chapter 41, punitive damages were capped at (1) two times any amount of economic damages plus (2) an amount equal to any noneconomic damages not exceeding $750,000. Id.2
After the Court issued its opinion and judgment, Columbia Medical filed a motion for rehearing, which was denied January 16, 2009. That same day, we issued the mandate. Thirteen days later Columbia Medical issued a wire transfer to the trust account for the Hogues’ counsel in the amount of $8,906,385.50, which included payment of compensatory damages, punitive damages, and post-judgment interest at a ten percent rate, compounded annually. Columbia Medical’s tender had reduced the amount of damages by properly deducting the loss of inheritance damages from the compensatory damages and adjusting the exemplary damages award accordingly. In other words, Columbia Medical did not include $612,786—two times the amount awarded as loss of inheritance damages—in calculating the exemplary damages cap. The Hogues refused the tender.
* * *
The opinion and judgment are clear: The Hogues are not entitled to loss of inheritance damages, either directly or indirectly through an increase of the exemplary damages cap. By denying this motion, the Court is leaving the parties in a quandary. It is not denying that Columbia Medical’s position on the punitive damages cap is correct (which it undisputably is). If the Hogues continue to press the issue, at best the failure to address the motion to clarify will force Columbia Medical to continue to litigate this dispute, perhaps by filing a new action, having to pay post-judgment interest that continues to accrue, incurring additional attorneys’ fees, and expending time over a matter we settled nearly a year ago. It is possible that this matter will come before the Court again. At worst, the Court’s inaction today could result in a more than $612,000 windfall directly contrary to our opinion.

COLUMBIA MEDICAL CENTER OF LAS COLINAS, INC. D/B/A LAS COLINAS MEDICAL CENTER v. ATHENA HOGUE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT HOGUE, JR., DECEASED, CHRISTOPHER HOGUE, AND ROBERT HOGUE, III; from Dallas County; 5th district (05-03-00279-CV, 132 SW3d 671, 04-13-04) petitioner's motion to clarify mandate denied
Justice Wainwright delivered an opinion, in which Justice Hecht and Justice Brister joined, dissenting to the denial.

LINKS TO PRIOR OPINIONS:

Corrected Opinion Released Jan. 16, 2009:
Columbia Med. Ctr. of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, No. 04-0575 (Tex. 2009)(substituted corrected opinion) (reh'g denied) (medical malpractice, gross negligence, punitive damages)

Original Opinion Handed Down August 29, 2008:
Columbia Medical Center of Los Colinas v. Hogue, No. 04-0575 (Tex. Aug. 29, 2008) (Wainwright) (HCLC, medical malpractice, damages for gross negligence by hospital affirmed, contributory negligence, loss of inheritance damages, prejudgment interest, construction of the phrase "subject to appeal")
HOLDING: There is sufficient evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that Columbia Medical acted with conscious indifference to an extreme risk of serious injury when it (1) elected to outsource echo services without a guaranteed response time while providing emergency services, (2) failed to communicate this limitation to its medical staff so they could consider other options to treat critical care patients, and (3) delayed obtaining the echo in spite of the serious risk to Hogue’s health.We hold that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s award of loss of inheritance damages.
COLUMBIA MEDICAL CENTER OF LAS COLINAS, INC. D/B/A LAS COLINAS MEDICAL CENTER v. ATHENA HOGUE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT HOGUE, JR., DECEASED, CHRISTOPHER HOGUE, AND ROBERT HOGUE, III; from Dallas County; 5th district (05-03-00279-CV, 132 SW3d 671, 04-13-04) The Court affirms in part and reverses in part the court of appeals' judgment. Justice Wainwright delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Jefferson, Justice O'Neill, Justice Brister, Justice Medina, Justice Johnson, and Justice Willett joined, and in Parts II-A, II-C, and II-D of which Justice Hecht and Justice Green joined.
Justice Brister opposed trifurcation of trial and delivered a concurring opinion, in which Justice Medina joined.
Justice Green would reverse gross negligence damages against hospital and delivered an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justice Hecht joined.

1 comment:

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