While many people receive much of their legal understanding from popular tv shows and movies, the fact remains that very real legal concepts are often explored. Regardless of your television preferences, the terms remain the same in real life litigation that often involves great tragedy and turmoil for all parties involved. Medical malpractice. Negligence. These two legal terms have unique meanings and can determine many aspects of a case.
Medical malpractice concerns professional negligence committed by a health-care provider such as a hospital, dentist, doctor or similar professional. A medical malpractice action centers around the behavior of the professional and his use of medical practices that depart from the normal care or skill that other similar professionals with similar experience utilize, that ultimately results in harm to the patient. General negligence, on the other hand, concerns conduct of a person that fails to meet the standard of care a reasonable person in their position would have exhibited in whatever the situation may be. Clearly, general negligence is a broader cause of action than medical malpractice.
This comparison recently became crucial in a wrongful death lawsuit against Pendleton Methodist Memorial Hospital. The facts concern Ms. Althea LaCoste, who passed away after Hurricane Katrina knocked out Pendleton’s power supply. The Times-Picayune reported that although the hospital was prepared with emergency generators to fight through the storm, the generators lacked the improvements necessary to withstand the storm’s raging water levels. Consequently, Ms. LaCoste’s life support machine failed.
The Louisiana Supreme Court allowed the plaintiff in this case to proceed on a theory of general negligence, as opposed to medical malpractice. According to the Louisiana medical malpractice laws, damages are capped at $500,000, whereas damages are not so limited if a trial is allowed to proceed under a general negligence theory. The Chicago Tribune reports that just a few weeks ago, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the state’s cap on medical malpractice damages was unconstitutional. The Court was mainly concerned with the idea of the legislative branch interfering with one of the rights of the judicial branch, that is, the right of a jury to come to its own conclusion about damages. Louisiana is currently embroiled in intense debate over whether to reform its own laws in this area as well.
The difference between medical malpractice and negligence is obviously crucial. We will provide more information on the state of the medical malpractice damage cap as it becomes available as well as any unfolding medical malpractice and general negligence cases of interest.