Louisiana high court upholds medical liability damages cap

Justices validate the $500,000 limit and say it should apply to all health professionals, including nurse practitioners.

By — Posted April 2, 2012

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The Supreme Court of Louisiana has reaffirmed the state’s $500,000 limit on total medical liability damages, declaring the cap constitutional.

Supporters of the state’s 38-year-old cap — one of the oldest in the country— said the decision further strengthens the measure.

“The uncertainty that this litigation created has really been hanging over our heads for far too long,” said Andy P. Blalock, MD, president of the Louisiana State Medical Society, which wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the cap.

Under the law creating the cap enacted in 1975, doctors who contribute to the state’s Patients’ Compensation Fund are responsible for the first $100,000 of a liability judgment. The fund covers the remaining $400,000, with no limit on future medical expenses.

In 2007, Joe and Helena Oliver sued nurse practitioner Susan Duhon, the Sulphur, La.-based Magnolia Clinic and the state’s Patients’ Compensation Fund.

The Olivers alleged that Duhon was negligent for failing to diagnose their baby with neuroblastoma. Because of the late diagnosis, the child experienced muscle deterioration, loss of sight and cognitive disabilities, the parents said.

A jury awarded the Olivers $6 million, which was cut to the $500,000 cap. The Olivers challenged the limit’s constitutionality.

The trial court rejected the family’s challenge and ruled that the cap should not apply to nurses. The Olivers appealed.

The Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal twice reviewed the case, with judges saying the award should not be reduced. But the judges issued mixed opinions as to the constitutionality of the damages cap and to whom it should apply.

In its March 13 opinion, the state Supreme Court held that the cap is valid as it applies to all qualified health care professionals, including nurse practitioners.

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External links

Joe Oliver v. Magnolia Clinic, Supreme Court of Louisiana, March 13 (link)

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