Medical Malpractice Cap Reviewed By Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal

Recently, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal considered the assertion that the Medical Malpractice Act’s limitation of recovery or the “cap” contained within La.R.S. 40:1299.42(B) is unconstitutional.

At trial, the court determined that the Louisiana statute La.R.S. 40:1299.47(B) was unconstitutional “as violative of the equal protection and adequate remedy guarantees of the Louisiana constitution.” Moreover, the trial court relied upon the opinion of the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal in a recent case that held that the cap of La.R.S. 40:1299.42(B) was unconstitutional “to the extent it includes nurse practitioners within its ambit, [and] violates the equal protection and adequate remedy guarantees of the Louisiana Constitution …” Subsequently, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed that very aspect of the Court of Appeal’s ruling, finding the medical malpractice cap unconstitutional. Rather, the Louisiana Supreme Court declared “the MMA’s cap described in La.R.S. 40:1299.42(B) is constitutional as it applies to all qualified health care providers, including nurse practitioners.

As such, the subsequent ruling of the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated the prior judgment of the trial court and the trial court was then directed to reconsider its ruling in light of the changes in the recent case law precedent. Ultimately, the trial court found La.R.S. 40:1299.42(B) constitutional and plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s decision.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued, among other things, that the Louisiana Supreme Court misunderstood the statutory “cap” and further violated basic rules for interpreting the constitution and statutes by failing to consider, apply, or interpret the actual language of Art. I., Sec. 22, which grants plaintiffs “adequate damages by due process of law and justice.” According to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal, the plaintiffs’ question on appeal focuses primarily upon whether the Louisiana Supreme Court decision appropriately addressed the question of adequacy of damages and whether it sufficiently considered the difficulties malpractice plaintiffs face in recouping losses.

In review of plaintiffs’ proposal, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal observed that “trial courts and courts of appeal are bound to follow the last expression of law of the Louisiana Supreme Court.” As such, the Court of Appeal suggests that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s pronouncements in the Oliver case are broad constitutional statements, which included an evaluation of a variety of policy considerations attendant to the Medical Malpractice Act. Thus, in opposition to plaintiffs’ statements and allegations to the contrary, the court found no distinction in the present case to suggest a departure from the straightforward position of the court in Oliver v. Magnolia Clinic. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal found that the supreme court ruled in broad constitutional terms and referred to the underlying policy considerations of the Medical Malpractice Act stating that “[o]verall, the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act represents a reasonable but imperfect balance between the rights of victims and those of health care providers … it does not violate the state or federal constitutions.”

In conclusion, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal found that given the breadth of the supreme court’s pronouncement in it jurisprudence, namely in the Oliver case, the trial court did not err in either its rejection of the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims or in its ultimate determination that La.R.S. 40:1299.42(B) is fully constitutional.

Aside from demonstrating the complexities of statutory interpretation and medical malpractice litigation generally, the issue discussed above reveals an important practice that is essential to the success of any case. In litigation, case law is king and it is imperative to retain representation that is not only cognizant of changes in the law, but comfortable with those changes.

At the Berniard Law Firm, our attorneys conduct extensive research and are prepared to advocate on your behalf. With confidence and preparation, our attorneys lend credibility and dedication to any case.