Will Louisiana Raise Cap on Med-Mal Awards from $500,000 to $1 Million?

Medical Malpractice
Louisiana Damage Caps

By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer

It’s heartening that rather than attempting to cap medical malpractice damages and rein in the statute of limitations as usual, two Louisiana House leaders sponsored bills that would have raised monetary damage caps and relaxed the statute of limitations for filing med-mal claims.

And the bills had bipartisan support.

House Bill 526, sponsored by Rep Gene Reynolds, (D-Minden), and House Bill 51 by Rep Steve Pugh, (R-Ponchatoula), convey the fact that the archaic $500,000 tort reform cap, set in 1974, hasn’t been raised for 43 years.

Pugh’s House Bill 51 would have increased the economic damage cap to $1 million from $500,000. (The cap for punitive or non-economic damages is currently $350,000 and also is being disputed.)

Reynold’s House Bill 526 would have extended the statute of limitations from one year to three, after plaintiff Corey Shadd, of Minden, testified that his family’s claim on behalf of his grandmother had to be dropped, as the deadline for filing claims was too restrictive.

Bills Blocked by House Civil Law & Procedure Committee

Both malpractice bills were blocked by the House Civil Law & Procedure Committee, which said damage cap legislation must be vetted by a variety of stakeholders, including the medical and hospital communities, as well as defense and plaintiffs’ attorneys.

However, the greatest challenge will be the support of the medical and hospital associations.

Most contentious, the Louisiana Medical Society and about 7,000 doctors around the state were angered by the one of the bill’s provisions, which would make over the medical review system.

Under current law, expert witnesses must come from the same specialty as the defendant-physician, according to NOLA.com, published by The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Reynolds’ measure would limit the panel to one such specialist to ensure that none of the other members of the disciplinary review committee had attended school with, worked with, or even lived within 100 miles of the defendant.

Shadd’s family filed a malpractice suit after his grandmother died in 2013 due to a misdiagnosed diabetic ulcer that killed her when it became infected.

After the medical review panel ruled against Shadd’s family, Shadd said he learned that the current law allowed for the panel’s physicians to communicate with the defendant.

He said one doctor lived in the same area as the defendant  and one had graduated with him.

“I would like to know how they’re supposed give an unbiased opinion on someone they work with, went to school with, live nearby, are friends with etc.,” Shadd testified.

Meanwhile, Rep. Pugh said he would withdraw his bill to raise the Louisiana damage cap until he could build a forceful coalition of supporters, including hospitals, doctors, insurance carriers and attorneys in the coming year.

Jennifer McMahon testified against the pending legislation.

McMahon, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Hospital Association and the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans, said although the organizations opposed the bills, the stakeholders she represents would be open to working with lawmakers on a thorough review of the Medical Malpractice Act, including extending the statute of limitations.

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