As a podiatrist, you use your education, knowledge, and experience to assist your clients with their medical issues. However, you also are a licensed professional in Texas who must follow all professional and ethical standards that apply to your practice. Therefore, your license may be at risk when a current or former patient complains about your services. In this situation, you should protect your license by enlisting the help of an experienced podiatrist license defense lawyer.
Complaints Against Texas Podiatrists
The Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation (TDLR) and the Podiatric Medical Examiners Advisory Board, a division of TDLR, govern complaints and ensuing disciplinary proceedings against podiatrists in Texas. When TDLR receives a complaint, whether from a public or TDLR staff member, it initially determines whether TDLR has jurisdiction over the subject of the complaint and whether there is reason to believe that an applicable rule or law violation has occurred. If TDLR answers these questions in the affirmative, the agency will open a case for investigation.
In most cases, a TDLR investigator will send a letter advising the podiatrist of the complaint and open investigation. However, TDLR will not send opening letters in some cases due to the type of investigation to be conducted.
The investigator then will interview the person who made the complaint, the podiatrist who is the subject of the complaint, and any relevant witnesses. The investigator also may gather important documents and conduct an on-site visit to the podiatrist’s workplace, if warranted. Following the completion of the investigation, the investigator will submit an investigative report to a TDLR prosecuting attorney for disposition.
Resolution of the Case
The attorney then determines whether to close the case for insufficient evidence or other reasons, issue an informal warning letter to the podiatrist and close the case, or pursue formal enforcement action.
The first step in a formal enforcement action is for the attorney to file a Notice of Alleged Violation (NOAV) against the podiatrist, potentially seeking administrative penalties and sanctions against their license. Administrative penalties are the most common resolution or fines the podiatrist pays TDLR. However, the attorney also can pursue other sanctions, including license suspension, a probated license suspension or placement on probation, a written reprimand, or license revocation.
NOAVs often contain Agreed Orders, which operate as offers of settlement with proposed penalties and sanctions. If the podiatrist agrees, they can sign an Agreed Order issued by the TDLR Executive Director. Agreed Orders typically require the podiatrist to do certain things, and the TDLR enforcement division will monitor the podiatrist’s ongoing compliance with the agreement.
On the other hand, if the podiatrist does not respond to the NOAV, the TDLR can proceed with a Default Order without holding a hearing. That Order contains the penalties and sanctions recommended by the TDLR attorney.
If the podiatrist disagrees with the NOAV and any Agreed Order that TDLR has issued, they can ask for a hearing within 20 days of receiving the NOAV. The case then goes to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to schedule a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ hears from both parties and then submits a Proposal for Decision (PFD) to all parties, containing findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a proposed outcome of the case. The Commission on Licensing and Regulation then considers the PFD, gives both sides another opportunity to be heard, and then issues a final decision in the case.
Sanctions for Violations of Podiatry Laws and Rules
TDLR maintains a separate enforcement plan for each type of occupation it regulates. Many enforcement plans contain specific sanctions and penalties for specific types of violations of the rules and laws that govern podiatrists, such as those outlined in 16 Tex. Admin. Code § 130. The enforcement plan for podiatrists categorizes violations into Classes A through D, which increase according to severity.
Class A violations are the least severe violations, which include many administrative violations, violations of the rules about posting and providing public information, and advertising or accreditation violations. Class B violations also include some advertising and administrative violations, as well as some health and safety violations and unlicensed activity.
Class C and D violations are the more serious ones, as they can result in the revocation of a podiatrist’s license. Class C violations include major administrative violations, records violations, standard of care violations concerning supervision or treatment, misrepresentation, unlicensed activity, and unethical or unprofessional conduct. Finally, Class D violations include the following violations:
- Practicing podiatry without a license
- Obtaining or attempting to obtain a license by fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment of material fact
- Engaging in fraud or deception in the passing or taking an examination
- Failing to comply with a previous order of the Commission or Executive Director
- Failing to pay the Department for a dishonored payment or processing fee
Generally, TDLR attorneys will seek sanctions consistent with the agency enforcement plan, except in rare circumstances with the express approval of the TDLR Director of Enforcement. The penalties associated with each class are as follows:
- Class A Violations – $500 – $2,000 fine
- Class B Violations – $1,000 – $3,000 fine and/or up to a one-year probated suspension
- Class C Violations – $2,000 – $5,000 fine and/or a one-year probated suspension up to revocation
- Class D Violations – $5,000 fine and/or revocation
Find Out More About Successfully Handling Your Disciplinary Proceedings
We want to help put you in the best position possible to protect your license. Contact the podiatrist license defense attorneys of Bertolino LLP, for assistance with your case. You can reach our offices by calling (512) 515-9518 or contacting us online.