Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board Cannot Exceed Its Statutory Authority

medical_care_medicine_health-1024x683When pursuing a medical malpractice claim in Louisiana, adhering to the necessary procedural requirements is crucial for a successful case. Failure to comply with statutory obligations can lead to legal battles centered around procedural technicalities rather than the merits of the claim.

That is the situation Lori Franks found herself in after she sent a letter to the Division of Administration at the Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board (“PCF”) requesting a medical review panel. Franks sought review related to the medical care provided by Dr. Charlotte Hollman and a nurse practitioner, Deborah Gahagan, to her two minor twin sons, A.F. and C.F. She included a payment of $200 for the filing fee, which is $100 per defendant under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, La. R.S. 40:1231.8

The PCF assigned two file numbers to the request, one for each of the twin son’s claims. It allocated the entire $200 payment to A.F.’s filing fee. PCF then mailed a letter to Frank acknowledging they had received her claim and to go ahead with appointing an attorney chairman. PCF sent a separate letter the same day that only referenced C.F.’s claim and told Franks that she needed to pay a $200 filing fee for the claim within forty-five days. After PCF did not receive any additional funds within the forty-five-day period, PCF sent her a letter stating C.F.’s claim was invalid because the period for paying the filing fee had expired. 

Franks then sought declaratory and mandamus relief against Dr. Hollman, Gahagan, and PCF. Franks claimed that PCF exceeded its authority by separating her request for a medical review panel into two separate claims and applying her $200 payment to just one claim. Franks claimed the payment should have been applied for both of the twin son’s claims against Hollman. PCF claimed it was acting reasonably in processing the improperly filed claim. The trial court found in favor of the defendants, finding that PCF acted reasonably because the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act only recognizes requests for medical review by a single patient.

The question on appeal was whether the PCF exceeded its statutory authority when processing Franks’ request for a medical review panel for her twin sons. The language of the statute is the starting point for interpreting a statute. See La. R.S. 24:177. The appellate court explained that the issue was not whether the PCF acted reasonably but whether the governing statute authorized their actions. 

Per La. R.S. 40:1231.8, the PCF is only authorized to undertake specified tasks to facilitate the medical review process, including confirming receipt of the claim, providing notice, notifying medical professionals about a filed claim, forwarding copies of the claim, and notifying parties when it receives the filing fee. Here, the PCF performed acts that went beyond its statutorily authorized scope. For example, the PCF divided Franks’ request into two claims and chose which claim would be allocated the filing fee Franks had sent. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling and held that the PCF had exceeded its statutory authority. The appellate court ordered the PCF to reinstate Franks’ request and assign one file number to her request, confirm her payment of the $200 filing fee, and notify the appropriate parties. 

Frank’s case serves as a reminder of the significance of procedural compliance in medical malpractice claims. The appellate court’s decision, reversing the trial court’s ruling, clarified that the PCF had exceeded its statutory authority by dividing Franks’ request into two claims and choosing the allocation of the filing fee. 

This case underscores the necessity of seeking legal counsel to ensure adherence to all requirements when requesting a medical review panel. By working with a knowledgeable attorney, individuals can navigate the complexities of medical malpractice claims, safeguard their rights, and increase their chances of a successful outcome.

Additional Sources: Lori Franks, Individually and as Tutrix of her minor children, A.F. and C.F. v. The Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board, Charlotte A. Hollman, M.D., and Deborah Kay Gahagan 

Written by Berniard Law Firm

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Medical Malpractice: What does “Not Charted, Not Done” Mean in Louisiana, and How Does it Apply to Medical Malpractice Cases?  Mistake, Medical Malpractice, or Misunderstanding Risk?

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