A Harris County man’s dismissed medical-malpractice claim was reborn as a legal-malpractice lawsuit Thursday, when he sued three personal injury lawyers and Houston firm Craig Lewis PC, known as the Craig Lewis Firm, for allegedly dropping his case after waiting until the last possible day to file a statutory expert report.
Plaintiff Robert Jones hired attorneys J. Craig Lewis, Blaine A. “Bat” Tucker and Aaron Arenas to handle a 2016 medical-malpractice claim he says was worth up to $1 million. But his suit ultimately fell apart, and Jones alleges that’s because his lawyers waited too long to find a medical expert.
Tucker declined to comment, while Lewis and Arenas denied the allegations.
“We tried our best to find a doctor to support [Jones'] case but unfortunately, as what happens many times, even though there’s a bad result it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of medical negligence under the laws of our state,” Lewis said.
Jones, then 85, suffered from an irregular heartbeat and took daily doses of Coumadin, a medication to prevent his blood from clotting. For that reason, according to the lawsuit, he had to maintain certain internal normalized ratio, or INR levels, which measure how long it takes for blood to form a clot.
On Dec. 29, 2015, a urinary tract infection landed Jones in hospital, where doctors altered his Coumadin dosage and put it on hold until physicians could evaluate him at another medical center—Eagle’s Trace Home Care LLC—where he was transferred on Jan. 9, 2016.
There, Jones alleges Dr. Brian Tremaine neglected his INR tests and Coumadin doses, causing his right leg to eventually turn purple and cold. On Jan. 21, Eagle’s Trace sent Jones to the emergency room, where doctors found a blood clot had cut off circulation in his leg, which had to be amputated above the knee.
In May 2016, Jones hired Tucker to sue Eagle’s Trace, Dr. Tremaine and senior care company, Erickson Living Management LLC, claiming their negligence cost him his leg. According to Thursday’s complaint, Tucker sent letters seeking settlements.
The complaint said Tucker brought Lewis and Arenas into the case, who sent Jones a letter explaining that, if the case doesn’t settle, he’ll need to pay for an expert witness, who’d write a report attesting to the medical-malpractice claims.
According to Thursday’s complaint, Arenas apologized for delays in filing the lawsuit, telling Jones he’d sent medical reports to the defendants and was waiting to see if they’d settle. Two years passed.
But by Dec. 22, 2017, days before the medical-malpractice statute of limitations was due to expire, Jones had no settlement, so Lewis and Arenas filed suit.
The defense answered the suit on Feb. 5, 2018, which according to Jones’ complaint meant he had until June 5 to file an expert report under the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code.
But Jones’ complaint alleges his lawyers waited until Apr. 26 to contact a potential expert—less than 40 days before the due date.
On deadline day, Lewis, Tucker and Arenas filed a notice of nonsuit without his permission, the complaint alleges. But the court dismissed the case with prejudice because Jones had missed the expert report deadline.
“As a result, the client’s claims, which the lawyers valued at $1 million, were forever lost,” the complaint said.
Arenas and Lewis dispute that.
“The most Mr. Jones could have gotten was $250,000, plus whatever his medical expenses were,’ Arenas said.
Arenas, an associate at the time, said he only had a minor role in the case, organizing documents and relaying information. He said the delays arose from the search for Jones’ medical records, as well as looking for experts.
“I was always courteous with [Jones]. I was always honest with him. I felt like we did what you have to do,” Arenas said. “The lawsuit alleges that ‘The simple thing you should have done was hire an expert,’ but that’s not a simple thing. The expert has to be willing to put his career on the line to testify in the case, it has to be supported by medical evidence.”
Lewis and Arenas said they talked to at least three experts, one of whom had a personal conflict and all of whom said the case had no merit.
“I didn’t stop at just one expert,” Lewis said. “I explained to Mr. Jones why the case did not have merit and why we could not write the report.”
Arenas agreed, adding that malpractice cases involving vascular problems are hard to bolster.
“You can have a blood clot for five seconds and lose your leg, or you could have a blood clot for 10 days and not lose your leg,” Arenas said.
Jones’ lawyer, Lance C. Kassab of the Kassab Law Firm in Houston, did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.
The lawsuit asks for between $500,000 and $1 million in actual damages and $125,000 in exemplary damages.