Medical Malpractice and the Patient Compensation Fund

A person’s worst fear when undergoing an invasive surgery, is for something to go wrong. For one patient, this fear came true when his doctor operated on the wrong knee. This severe error was not disputed by the Doctor, who admitted he erroneously operated on the plaintiff’s right knee when he intended to treat the plaintiff patient’s left knee with arthoscopic surgery. What was at issue in this recent Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, is whether or not the injured plaintiff was awarded an appropriate amount in damages. Numerous factors are weighed when determining damages. However, in Louisiana, as well as numerous other states, there is a cap on how much a person may recover in a medical malpractice suit. Patients who have been injured face a litany of complicated issues and standards that are difficult to understand, thus, obtaining legal representation as soon as possible is highly recommended in order to protect legal rights throughout the process.

In a recent Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the court explored the amount of damages a patient was initially awarded for damages they sustained from an erroneously performed surgical procedure. The plaintiff patient complained on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding inadequate damages for past lost wages, past medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering. Additionally, the victim contended that the trial court erred in failing to award future lost wages and future medical expenses for the patient plaintiff and loss of consortium for his wife. The appellate court affirmed the trial courts damages award for numerous reasons, many based on statutory limits that are in place restricting the amount a patient may obtain. Yet, the decision is in large part held by the jury. The jury has the duty to hear the evidence and determine a price that may “make the plaintiff whole again.” In this case, the jury decided that the patient plaintiff had $40,000 in pain and suffering and $10,000 in loss of income. It may seem a harsh factor in the legal process, that despite the severity of a patients injuries, the numerical value given such injuries is designed to “fix” such issues. The plaintiff in this case felt that the jury’s damages award did not adequately resolve any of the issues he was experiencing after having the botched surgical procedure. Since the accident, the victim of this botched surgery had been experiencing serious issues in almost every part of his life, including that the knee which was erroneously operated on was in constant pain, decreased his range of motion, his sense of instability caused him to limp, insomnia, impaired ability to work, back pain induced by the limp which resulted in a herniated disk, and loss of consortium with his wife. Thus, the problems went deeper then the categorical terms such as “pain and suffering and loss of income.” The court however, explains and supports their decision by exploring the governing statutes at issue.

Juries factual finding decisions are highly regarded, and under Louisiana law such decisions may not be set aside unless the appellate court finds that it is manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. The appellate court will review the witnesses testimony at trial in order to determine whether or not their may have been an erroneous decision. Here, the plaintiff alleged he had to undergo four surgeries due to the Doctor operating on the wrong knee plus a discogram of his back. To support the additional damages that were a result of the erroneous surgical procedure performed by the defendant doctor, the plaintiff offered the testimony of a doctor who contended that the plaintiff would need two back and neck surgeries and would have pain in his right knee for the rest of his life. Further, the plaintiff would have to get a total knee replacement at some point in his life. In consequence to the erroneous surgery, the plaintiff was declared disabled by Social Security and began receiving Social Security Income payments. Additionally, the plaintiff was unable to perform the part time work he was previously able to and the couple eventually went bankrupt. Despite these very sad consequences, the court has to abide by the regulations and statutes that are in place and govern medical malpractice issues.

For health care providers that are insured by the state, they have their liability limited to $100,000 as described in the Patient Compensation Funds and Physicians Insurance. The Patient Compensation Fund (PCF) is the cap of what any injured patient may recover from any one or more doctors. Under Louisiana Statute § 40:1299.44, the liability of each qualified health care provider is limited to $100,000 plus interest per patient per incident. Judgments, settlements, or binding arbitration orders in excess of $100,000 per provider are paid out of the fund. The total recovery a patient may receive is limited to $500,000 plus future medical costs. However, such future medical costs are paid as incurred from the PCF. In the case at hand, the plaintiff patient was facing two major difficulties in the appellate court. First, in order to overturn the trial court’s decision, there must have been manifest error in the jury’s determination and award. Secondly, the plaintiff offered numerous witnesses, some whose testimony was determined not to be credible and others whose testimony was credible. The appellate court explored the lower level decision in order to determine whether or not the Doctor was liable for additional damages or whether the PCF was available for additional damages. The record contained a reasonable factual basis for each factual finding from which plaintiffs sought relief on appeal. In fact, the appellate court could not find any clear wrong or manifest error. The jury and trial judge heard the testimony and were in the best position to evaluate variations in demeanor and tone of voice that influence heavily the listener’s understanding and belief in what is said. Virtually, the jury’s decision to credit the testimony of one of two or more witnesses and reject others is never considered manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. So, the fact that the defendant doctor was covered by the PCF protected him from paying any of the appellate court costs involved, or even having to pay any additional damages. Instead, the appellate court determined that the PCF and the plaintiff were to divide the costs attributale to the appellate court and pay in equal amounts. Therefore, at the end of the day, a jury’s decision making ability is highly regarded, and it takes a substantial amount of error to overturn such a decision.

Thus, a medical malpractice case is a difficult and arduous process. An injured patient has to go through more than the physical pain sustained from a poorly performed surgery, but they also have to experience the complicated legal process that is involved. Having a competent legal representative is a necessity in such situations, someone who can protect your legal rights, answer all of your questions, and make a difficult process easier to handle.

Therefore, if you have sustained injuries after undergoing medical treatment, please call The Berniard Law Firm. An experienced firm that can handle your claim throughout every step of the process, our lawyers will tackle every issue you face with the competency and expertise you deserve.