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In Texas, a Stolen Heart Raises Questions About Tort Reform

In Texas, a Stolen Heart Raises Questions About Tort Reform

11 years ago, Jerry Carswell died under mysterious circumstances while being treated for kidney stones at Christus St. Catherine Hospital in Katy, Texas. During the autopsy, a medical examiner removed Carswell’s heart and preserved it as evidence that the man had died of a heart attack.

Three years after Carswell’s death, his wife Linda sued the hospital for malpractice and the heart was subpoenaed as evidence in the case. Upon being returned for further analysis however, a forensic biologist found that the heart contained no human DNA. The biologist told the court that this was either because the heart had not been properly preserved, or because it was a non-human decoy heart.

In spite of this strange and highly suspicious turn of events, Linda Carswell was unable to receive damages in the case because she sued after a state-legislated two year statute of limitations had expired.  This statute of limitations was established in 2003 under the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA).

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The Texas Supreme Court acknowledged that the hospital had clearly tried to conceal evidence of wrongdoing, but still ruled in their favor due to the TMLA statute of limitations. Statutes such as this exist in a number of other states as well, and many legislators are concerned that they’re unfairly preventing people like Linda Carswell from suing healthcare providers for medical errors.

Recently, Carswell and others in Texas have shared similar stories in an attempt to raise awareness about the need to reform malpractice legislation that infringes on patients’ right to sue. Hopefully before too long the Texas State Legislature will address these concerns and take steps to institute new laws that more effectively protect the rights of their citizens.