Everyone expects adequate, timely, and complete care from medical professionals in hospitals. However, unfortunately, times come when the expected level of care fails to come to fruition, and an action for medical malpractice arises. In March of 1993, a Tallulah, Louisiana, resident began a series of trips to doctors in hospitals in which his continued back, shoulder, and neck pain eventually led to lung cancer. The Tallulah, Louisiana resident, Mr. Kerry Scarborough, died 2 years later in March of 1995.
For a malpractice claim against a hospital, plaintiffs like Mr. Scarborough’s mother, suing in her son’s name, must prove by a preponderance of the evidence first, that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to protect against the risk involved, essentially providing a standard of care that the plaintiff was owed, second, that the defendant breached that duty or standard of care, and third, that the injury was caused by that breach. A hospital can be sued for its own negligence (such as failure to keep its facilities clean), or under a theory of vicarious liability, in which a plaintiff alleges that the hospital is liable for the negligence of one of its doctors. Of course, a medical malpractice action can be extended to any health care provider, including dentists, nurses, hospital workers, physical therapists, radiologists, and more.
Louisiana revised statute 9:2794 provides the statutory language laying out the plaintiff’s burden for a general malpractice action. The plaintiff must prove how much knowledge or skill or how much care that physicians licensed in Louisiana normally exercise in similar locations and situations. Furthermore, the plaintiff must prove that if the defendant physician specializes in a particular field, and if the allegedly negligent acts within that specialty raise unique issues, then the plaintiff must prove how much care that physicians in that specialty normally exercise. Additionally, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant did not have the knowledge or skill, or did not exercise reasonable care, diligence and best judgment in using his or her skill. Moreover, the plaintiff must prove that the plaintiff suffered injuries that were the proximate result of the defendant’s absence of the knowledge and skill, or the absence of reasonable care.
Generally, expert testimony is required to establish the degree of care that the defendant must meet and whether that standard was breached, except where the negligence is so clear on its face that an expert is unnecessary. Whether an expert’s particular testimony will be admissible depends on whether a trial judge finds them qualified to testify as an expert, analyzed under what is called a ‘Daubert standard,’ in which the court will look at a variety of factors regarding the expert’s background.
In Mr. Scarborough’s case, not all his expert’s met this standard, and some testimony that could have potentially helped his case was barred and never heard. We understand these complex issues patients face in these types of lawsuits, and are here to help you get through those difficult times. If you feel you were the victim of inadequate medical care, picking experts that will be able to assist in winning your case is critical.
In Louisiana, medical malpractice suits like Mr. Scarbourough’s can be brought against either qualified health care providers, or non qualified health care providers. There will be a cap on liability of $100,000 for what is referred to as a QHCP, but there will be no cap on a NQHCP. A QHCP has paid into a state insurance fund called the Patient Compensation Fund and, as such, limits their own liability. This difference is critical, as any medical malpractice actions brought against a qualified health care provider must first go to a panel consisting of three doctors and one non-voting attorney. This panel determines whether the evidence in a case like Mr. Scarborough’s (assuming a qualified health care provider) demonstrate that a doctor or hospital failed to meet a given standard of care. The decision of the panel is treated like that of an expert’s testimony and may be used during court proceedings.
Nuances such as these are important to understand, especially in the technical field of medical malpractice. The term “medical malpractice” is so broad, and includes things such as a doctor’s failure to take adequate medical history, failure to prescribe correct medications, and other negligent acts or omissions by a health care provider that leads to an injury.