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April 3rd, 2012

Louisiana Supreme Court Joins Growing Number of State High Courts Upholding Limits on Medical Liability Damages

Louisiana has joined the growing majority of states whose high courts have upheld statutory limits on medical liability damages awarded by juries.  These limits provide greater protection for doctors, which decrease the likelihood of doctors fleeing the state, thereby, increasing patients’ access to health care and increasing the standard of care which is available.  Last week, ATRA reported on a similar decision coming out of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas, in which the court upheld the state’s 2003 reform.  Now we are happy to report that on March 13, 2012, the Louisiana Supreme Court also declared the state’s $500,000 limit on total medical liability damages constitutional.

In this case, a couple sued a nurse practitioner, her insurer, and the clinic she owned, for medical liability due to their daughter’s delayed cancer diagnosis.  The jury awarded the family $6 million in general damages, $529,728.24 in past medical expenses and $3,358,828 in future medical liability expenses.  The jury also awarded the parents more than $200,000 in loss of consortium awards.  The $6 million in general damages was later decreased to comply with the state’s $500,000 limit.

The family appealed, arguing that the Louisiana Medical Liability Act was unconstitutional.  The case was presented before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and it ruled that the award should not be reduced.  The case was then argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court.  The Court ruled that the limit was constitutional and applicable to all qualified health care providers.  In a 17-page ruling, Justice Marcus Clark wrote that the legislative intent behind the statutory limit was an attempt to prevent and/or treat the crisis in the medical field.  The limit provides much needed protection to health care providers who qualify under the Medical Liability Act. 

32 states have enacted limits on medical liability, and of those challenged in the state high courts, more than two thirds have been upheld.  Florida looks to join the growing majority, as the Florida Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of Evette McCall v. United States of America.  As in Louisiana, the plaintiffs are challenging the limit on damages in medical liability cases.  Enacted in 2003, the statute places a limit of $500,000 on non-economic damages, an amount that increases to $1 million in the event of a catastrophic injury or death.  In a time where health care is at the center of a national debate, it is important to recognize the importance of protecting our doctors in order to ensure sufficient access to acceptable levels of health care for patients all over the country.

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