Ruling could hasten Katrina hospital lawsuits
The Louisiana Supreme Court has removed a potential hurdle to hundreds of Hurricane
Katrina lawsuits, ruling that allegations that hospitals lacked evacuation plans are not
medical malpractice claims.
The 4-3 ruling means that the case of Althea LaCoste, and hundreds of similar cases, wont
need to detour through state review panels before trials can be scheduled. Reviews needed
for malpractice suits can take up to a year.
The decision also means plaintiffs can get more money. Louisiana has a $500,000 cap on
malpractice awards, but none in liability lawsuits.
Since they are not covered by the Medical Malpractice Act, there is no limit other than
what the court eventually deems is reasonable as to the amount a jury could award, said
Russ Herman, a prominent Louisiana personal injury attorney not involved in this case.
The ruling could affect as many as 194 claims filed with the Louisiana Patients
Compensation Fund Oversight Board, which manages malpractice suits, said the board's
executive director, Lorraine LeBlanc. She said she did not know the number of lawsuits
that may have been filed by people who did not file claims with the board.
The decision reverses an appeal court ruling that said such claims amount to malpractice
because they involve decisions affecting patient care, and reinstates a district judges
However, oversight board attorney David Woolridge said that the high court noted in a
footnote on the decision that the trial court will eventually decide whether the case is
one of medical malpractice or negligence.
It seems like a victory for the plaintiffs, but it could easily be taken away at trial,
Woolridge said. -- by the Associated Press
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