ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Texas doctors who treat New Mexico patients can breathe easier now that the New Mexico Supreme Court has overturned a ruling in a medical malpractice case that sought to avoid more restrictive laws in the Lone Star State.
The question was whether a woman who claims her gastric bypass surgery was botched could pursue her claim against a Texas doctor in New Mexico, where the laws that address such cases are more favorable for patients.
The high court issued its opinion in the case of Kimberly Montano on Monday, telling the lower district court in New Mexico to dismiss without prejudice the complaint she filed in 2011 against the surgeon who once worked at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
In the complaint, the Curry County woman claimed her 2004 surgery left her with abdominal pain and eventually the need for lifelong care.
The surgeon, Eldo Frezza, who served at the time as chief of bariatric surgery at the Lubbock hospital, sought to dismiss the case. He argued that he had immunity since he was employed by a government-run facility. New Mexico does not provide such protection.
In reviewing the two states’ laws, the high court found that applying Texas law would not undermine public policy in New Mexico and would actually encourage continued cooperation between the states when it comes to providing health care for residents in rural areas along the state line.
The New Mexico Supreme Court cited previous cases, reasoning that “the public interest in maintaining access to cross-border medical services is promoted by applying the law where such services were rendered.”
The case was tracked by hospitals and doctors in Texas and New Mexico. Those living and working along New Mexico’s eastern plains, where doctors and specialists are scarce, were concerned that Texas providers may have been more reluctant to care for patients from New Mexico if the case had moved forward.
Some of that concern was alleviated during the 2016 legislative session, when New Mexico lawmakers approved a measure designed to prevent Texas doctors who treat New Mexico patients from being sued in New Mexico’s patient-friendly courts.
Under the law, Texas health care providers now can have their New Mexico patients sign statements accepting jurisdiction in Texas courts.
Attorneys for Montano said they were disappointed with the ruling but acknowledged that it revolved around the principle of comity, or how one state respects another state’s laws.