Lubbock area doctors are expressing relief after a decision came down last week in the New Mexico Supreme Court regarding a case that could have affected the care New Mexico patients receive in Texas.
The closely-watched case, which was filed in 2011, stemmed from a 2004 alleged case of negligence during a bariatric surgery performed by Dr. Eldo Frezza, who was employed by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at the time.
Kimberly Montano, a New Mexico resident, underwent the surgery and received follow-up care by Frezza, but was never informed of a suture bleeding internally until undergoing a different procedure by another doctor in 2010, according to A-J Media archives.
The court this month ruled Frezza can’t be sued in New Mexico.
“We’re pleased the case has been settled and put concerns to ease,” said Steve Beck, senior vice president for administration for Covenant Health.
Joanna Harkey, managing attorney and director in the professional liability division of the Texas Tech University System,previously told A-J Media that there have been similar cases filed in the past.
“We’ve always gotten those cases dismissed on the grounds that New Mexico didn’t have jurisdiction over a Texas physician,” she said.
Shortly after the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 2015, local doctors began including clauses in their paperwork, stating any medical procedures performed in Texas can only be tried in Texas, said Dr. Allan Haynes, past president of the Lubbock County Medical Society.
“The concern was it was going to be worrisome for Texas physicians to take care of New Mexico patients,” he said.
Lubbock is the closest point of care for people in eastern New Mexico, he said. Some patients come from as far as Albuquerque.
“That entire population comes into here for acute care,” Haynes said.
But liability in both states varies, he said.
Tort reform enacted a cap of $250,000 for noneconomic damages from medical malpractice claims in Texas, Harkey said in an archived story from A-J Media.
The cap is $600,000 in New Mexico. Physicians pay a third of that and New Mexico’s Patient Compensation Fund, which physicians pay into, covers the rest.
A different ruling in the case could have made it more costly for physicians to maintain liability protection to treat patients from New Mexico, Haynes said.
Haynes said he and other physicians have been advised to maintain the clause in their paperwork for at least 30 days in the event of an appeal. Should the case be appealed, it will go to the United States Supreme Court, he said, and that seems unlikely.
Requests for comment from TTUHSC went unanswered by late Monday.