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Will ruling make Louisiana rethink medical malpractice cap?

Residents of Lake Charles and other parts of Louisiana who are involved in a lawsuit against a doctor or hospital may be happy to learn of a recent landmark judgment removing the limit on how much each plaintiff can be awarded in a lawsuit in the event of a death resulting from a medical error. The decision may inspire other states to change their caps.

The Supreme Court in a nearby state recently eliminated a law capping the compensation awarded for "pain and suffering" in a death caused by medical malpractice. Physicians in Florida complained that their insurance rates were going up because of the rising malpractice payouts. A 2003 law limited the payout for noneconomic damages to $500,000 for factors such as emotional stress caused by medical negligence. The cap was set at $1 million for all defendants in one lawsuit.

The ruling stated that limiting noneconomic damages is in violation of the equal protection clause. The court stated that the law punishes plaintiffs if there is more than one in a lawsuit because it forces them to share the award.

The landmark case involved a woman who died after giving birth. At that time, she was under the treatment of doctors from the Air Force. Her family then subsequently chose to file a lawsuit against the U.S. government. A judge calculated that the noneconomic damages for the woman's family totaled $2 million. Her son was awarded $500,000 and her mother and father each got $750,000. However, that was cut to $1 million. The family won the case on appeal.

In Louisiana, the cap of $500,000 is on the total amount of damages available to a plaintiff, not just a limit on certain categories of damages. However, costs of future medical care are not subject to the cap. If Louisiana changes the existing medical malpractice cap, plaintiffs may be able to obtain more compensation.

Source: napelesnews.com, "Medical malpractice 'pain and suffering' ruling pits lawyers vs. doctors," James Rosica, March 13, 2014

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