Ultimately, the Olivers sued the nurse practitioner alleging malpractice. A jury awarded them over one million dollars in damages. Eventually, the award of general damages, which in Louisiana included medical and non-medical costs, was reduced to $500,000 as required by the statute. Needless to say the Olivers were distraught at the low value the court ascribed to Taylor’s injury.
The Oliver’s challenged the constitutionality of the statute by alleging that it violated the principle of equal protection. When a statute is constitutionally challenged one of the most important aspects of the case is what burden the state has in defending the act. If the act does not violate the equal protection clause of the 5th and 14th amendment, the state only needs to prove that the act has a rational basis connected with a legitimate government interest. Generally, this standard is not very hard to meet. On the other hand, if the act violates equal protection, a higher standard is used to evaluate the act. The Louisiana equal protection clause states the following:
“No person shall be denied the equal protection of the law. No law shall discriminate against a person because of race or religious ideas, beliefs, or affiliations. No law shall arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably discriminate against a person because of birth, age, sex, culture, physical condition, or political ideas or affiliations.”
If the act does violate any of these categories the state has a higher burden to meet. The state must show that the act furthers a legitimate governmental interest. The defendants argued that the act did meet the rational basis test because the goal was to prevent medical practitioners from being subject to excessive malpractice suits.
The Olivers argued that the act violated the equal protection clause. The court stated that there was in fact a distinction drawn by the act which would appear to violate the clause. The Louisiana equal protection clause states that there should not be any unreasonable discrimination based on physical condition. The court viewed the effect of the act on children like Taylor who are catastrophically and severely injured by a medical practitioner. The $500,000 liability limitation in fact creates a category of those whose injuries are not severe or catastrophic and who will likely be able to be fully compensated for damages done to them within the limitation. The act also creates a category of those victims of medical malpractice who are severely and catastrophically injured and who will not be able to be fully compensated for their injuries.
Taylor had a disease which would be fully treated in 90% of cases if diagnosed at an early stage. Nurse Duhon did not consult with a doctor when Taylor was her patient. As a result, the cancer spread to a point where Taylor would be almost fully disabled for the rest of her life. She is a victim of malpractice who cannot be compensated within the $500,000 liability limit. This disparity of protection in the law is what the court saw as a violation of equal protection. As a result, the higher standard of burden was imposed on the state.