Louisiana Court of Appeals Rules Limits on Malpractice Damages Unconstitutional

The Louisiana Court of Appeals ruled last month that the state’s limits on malpractice damages violated the constitution. The Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, which caps damages general damages at $500,000, was ruled to be unconstitutional on November 17, 2010 in Oliver v. Magnolia Clinic (WL 4703880).

The Olivers sued a registered nurse practitioner for failing to diagnose their daughter’s cancer. During the first 14 months of life, the Oliver’s daughter experienced repeated infections, persistent abdominal pain, vomiting, and anemia. She was seen exclusively by the nurse practitioner 32 times in the first twelve months of her life. Then came the second opinion: neuroblastoma.

The child survived the cancer, but her quality of life was severely diminished according to plaintiff experts. She is blind, has brittle bones, and has learning disabilities. A jury awarded the Olivers $6 million in general damages, $4 million in past and future medical expenses, and $233,000 for loss of consortium. Under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, the jury’s award of $6 million in general damages was reduced to $500,000. With that, the Olivers appealed.

The Louisiana Court of Appeals found the reduction to be unconstitutional as the Act discriminated against severely injured plaintiff. “This case presents a compelling example of the most pernicious consequences of capping the liability of malpractice tortfeasors,” the court stated.

Louisiana joins a list of states that have found tort reform efforts unconstitutional. What the legislature gives, the courts can take away.

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