Tarrant v. Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Frisco
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-18-01129-CV (January 15, 2020)
Justices Myers, Carlyle (Opinion, linked here), and Evans
Stephen Courtney, an orthopedic surgeon, performed back operations on plaintiffs Tarrant and Kendrick at Baylor-Frisco, a physician-owned hospital in which Courtney holds an interest. During the surgeries, Courtney used devices and monitoring services supplied by entities that also were largely owned by him. Alleging Courtney performed the operations improperly and used inappropriate products and services to increase his profits, Tarrant and Kendrick sued. Although their lawsuit was filed after the statute of limitations had expired, plaintiffs contended Courtney and his associated entities should be barred from asserting a limitations defense because Courtney had fraudulently concealed his wrongdoing.

The Dallas Court of Appeals agreed that under the equitable doctrine of fraudulent concealment, “a defendant who conceals his wrongful conduct, either by failing to disclose it when under a duty to disclose or by lying about his conduct, is estopped to assert the statute of limitations.” But, the Court explained, silence constitutes fraudulent concealment only when there is a duty to disclose. And, although the physician-patient relationship gives rise to fiduciary obligations by the physician, including the duty to make certain disclosures, that duty ends when the physician-patient relationship ends. Here, the plaintiffs’ fraudulent-concealment argument rested entirely on Courtney’s alleged silence and failure to disclose. But the physician-patient relationships ended shortly after the surgeries, beyond the limitations period. The appeals court, therefore, affirmed summary judgment for the defendants.

In so doing, the Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the tolling of limitations in a fraudulent-concealment case like this one should extend until the plaintiff discovers or reasonably could have discovered the physician’s fraudulent nondisclosure, rather than having the limitations clock begin ticking when the physician-patient relationship ends. The Court acknowledged the “logical force” of the argument but could find no authority to support it, and therefore declined to adopt that approach here.