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Texas Hospital Must Face Switched-at-Birth Case Over 50 Years Later

Calling it “a made for television situation,” a Nueces County judge refused to dismiss the case over a technicality, finding the lawsuit is not governed by Texas’ medical negligence law.

(CN) – To Mary Ann High, identifying as Mexican was all she knew. Raised in a Hispanic household in Kingsville, Texas, with a mother who prepared tamales and capirotada – a type of Mexican bread pudding – High says she never had any indication she was growing up in a family that she was not biologically related to.

But the life and family tree that High thought she knew began to unravel in 2018 when the results of two separate DNA samples she and her husband submitted to genealogy websites for fun brought more questions than answers. She was shocked to discover her lineage wasn’t from Spain or Mexico as she expected, but consisted of mostly European DNA, primarily from England and Ireland.

Curious about the circumstances surrounding her April 1969 birth at the now-demolished Kleberg County Hospital, but still unaware of the reality that she was in fact switched at birth, High, 52, continued her pursuit to pin down her roots. Her sleuthing led to the discovery of only one other female being born at the same hospital on the same day as her: Cynthia Rector.

But High wouldn’t be faced with the scientific reality that she was not raised by her biological mother and father until August 2019, after she contacted the TLC show “Long Lost Family” and genetic findings confirmed that Rector’s sister was actually High’s biological sister, according to the lawsuit both women filed last July in Nueces County.

“It’s no doubt that we have a unique set of facts,” Tab Lawhorn, an attorney for the women, said at a virtual hearing Tuesday. “It is a switched-at-birth case, which is unique.”

Attorneys for the hospital, now operating as Christus Spohn Health System Corporation, spent the bulk of the case’s first hearing arguing that it should be dismissed over a technicality based on the women’s’ failure to file a proper expert report within the 120-day deadline.

William Woolsey, a Corpus Christi attorney defending the hospital, told Nueces County Judge Robert Vargas that medical negligence claims require expert reports citing alleged breaches, the merits of the lawsuit and proximate cause, among other elements. He insisted that the case was “100% a health care liability claim,” rather than a general negligence case as the women argued.

While an expert report regarding the women’s mental health issues was filed with the court, it was “so inadequate and devoid of content that it constitutes no report,” argued Woolsey, an attorney with Woolsey & Woolsey.

But Lawhorn said Woolsey’s arguments don’t apply to the fact pattern of the case. He argued that no nexus exists between the identification, or misidentification, of the two women and medical treatment. It was “the act of switching two human beings at birth” that caused their injuries.

“We have not alleged anything in our petition that calls into question whether or not the plaintiffs had received proper medical care,” Lawhorn said. “Everything that we know about both plaintiffs, including the birth mothers, is that the quality of care that they received was excellent.”

Refusing to dismiss the case he moments earlier referred to as “a made for television situation,” Vargas ruled at the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing that the women’s claim should not be governed by the state’s medical negligence act and can proceed as a general negligence claim.

“How was this triggered?” a seemingly intrigued judge asked before Lawhorn and attorney Eric Findlay dove into how the lawsuit landed with their firm, Findlay Craft PC in Tyler, Texas. High and Rector were both present with Lawhorn during the hearing, but remained off-camera.

“It’s an excellent result, excellent in more ways than one for us,” Lawhorn told Courthouse News after the hearing. “It’s just a straight general negligence case, that means there’s no caps on damages and a whole bunch of other things that are very good for us.”

Attorneys for the hospital have also argued in court documents that it "has no legal relationship to the alleged events" because it did not purchase the preceding owners' tort liabilities through a 1999 purchase acquisition.

A trial date has yet to be set.

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