Louisiana Medical Malpractice Cap Upheld (Again)

In a decision issued on March 13, 2012, the Supreme Court of Louisiana upheld as constitutional the Louisiana medical malpractice damage cap as applied to nurse practitioners (La.R.S. 40:1299.42(B) provides, in pertinent part: “(1) The total amount recoverable for all malpractice claims for injuries to or death of a patient, exclusive of future medical care and related benefits as provided in R.S. 40:1299.43, shall not exceed five hundred thousand dollars plus interest and cost.”)

The Supreme Court of Louisiana reviewed its prior cases in which it determined that the right of malpractice victims to sue for damages is not a fundamental constitutional right. Therefore, Louisiana must only articulate “a rational basis” reasonably related to a governmental interest for medical malpractice legislation that limits monetary recoveries.

However, the “rational basis” standard shifts to a higher standard if the legislation creates a separate or suspect classification, requiring a showing that a legitimate state objective is substantially furthered by the classification. Louisiana’s medical malpractice cap creates two classes: those who are fully compensated by an award equal to or less than $500,000.00 (the amount of the medical malpractice cap) and those whose severity of injuries require an award in excess of $500,000.00 and who, therefore, receive less than full compensation. Therefore, the separate statutory classification discriminates on the basis of physical condition. In order for Louisiana to prove such discrimination is not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, a legitimate state objective substantially furthered by the discrimination must be shown.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana found that the Louisiana legislature acted to combat the rising insurance premiums in an inherently risky industry in order to avoid a healthcare crisis in Louisiana, which the Supreme Court of Louisiana determined substantially furthers a legitimate state interest.

In this most recent case, the Supreme Court of Louisiana had to decide if the medical malpractice cap applied to nurse practitioners. The Supreme Court of Louisiana held: “We find the same crisis referenced in our above discussion exists for nurse practitioners insofar as they, too, are exposed to malpractice liability. The legislature’s proven intent in enacting the cap was to afford limited protection to health care providers who qualified under the MMA in an attempt to prevent and/or treat the crisis in the medical field. We do not adopt the logic that requires the State to put on evidence of a crisis within each speciality and sub-speciality of the field of health care.”

A wrinkle in the present case is that the Louisiana law at the time of the act of medical malpractice that was the subject of the medical malpractice lawsuit defined “health care provider” as including a “registered or licensed practical nurse or certified nurse assistant.” Subsequently, the Louisiana legislature amended the definition to include a “nurse practitioner.” The Supreme Court of Louisiana held, however, that the amendment simply clarified the legislature’s position that nurse practitioners had always been covered as registered nurses and the amendment reflected the intention to simply clarify that nurse practitioners as registered nurses were always covered by the medical malpractice law.

Source

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 6th, 2012 at 11:20 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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