Plaintiffs recovered million dollar judgments in medical malpractice actions brought against the United States in Texas federal court. The United States challenged the judgments under a Texas statute that limited the amount of a plaintiff’s recovery against health care providers. Plaintiffs asserted that the statute should not be considered because the United States failed to plead it as an affirmative defense.
A Texas statutory limit on medical malpractice damages was an affirmative defense that had to be pleaded timely or it was waived.
Plaintiffs brought a medical malpractice action in Texas federal court against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Plaintiffs recovered million dollar judgments against the United States. The United States challenged the judgments based on a state statute that limited the amount of a plaintiff’s recovery against health care providers. Plaintiffs asserted that the damage limitation should not apply because it was an affirmative defense that the United States failed to plead and, therefore, had waived.
Was the statutory damages limitation an affirmative defense so that the failure to timely raise it constituted a waiver?
Yes. The United States waived the defense of the Texas statute that limited damages; it was an affirmative defense that had to be timely pleaded.
To determine whether the defense was an affirmative defense under Rule 8(c), the court considered the logical relationship between the defense and the cause of action asserted by the plaintiff, noting that the central principle of pleading affirmative defenses — the prevention of unfair surprise.