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Understanding Louisiana’s medical malpractice award cap

It can be extremely difficult and frustrating to suffer a debilitating injury at the hands of a physician whom you trusted to care for you. We at the office of MGM Attorneys believe that you deserve compensation for the sometimes life-altering negative effects of medical malpractice. Unfortunately, even if a jury agrees and awards you significant damages in a medical malpractice case, Louisiana state law may prevent you from collecting all that you deserve. 

According to the Times-Picayune, the state mandates a cap on medical malpractice damages. Since the law first went into effect in 1974, plaintiffs can receive no more than $500,000 in damages from a medical malpractice case even if the jury awards them millions, except in rare cases when extenuating circumstances apply. There has been no adjustment for inflation in the intervening 45 years.

Furthermore, the law also limits the amount that doctors and hospitals named in a malpractice suit must pay to the plaintiff to $100,000 apiece. The difference comes out of the Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund. Private health care providers pay a surcharge to provide the necessary funds.

In 2013, the total balance of the Compensation Fund was over $800 million, and in the intervening six years, estimates now put that balance at over $1 billion. On a yearly basis, the fund may pay out approximately $100 million to medical malpractice plaintiffs. The director of the fund alleges that it is necessary to hold the surplus in reserve in anticipation of future risk. 

While plaintiffs in some states have successfully challenged the constitutionality of medical malpractice award caps, thus far this has not been the case in Louisiana. The state Supreme Court issued a decision in 2012 that, while acknowledging that any discrimination against the seriously injured as a result of the cap was “unfortunate,” the cap was necessary to keep health care costs down and to maintain sufficient funding for compensation of future malpractice plaintiffs. 

However, it is important to note that the cap applies to damages like pain and suffering, lost wages, etc. It does not apply to future medical expenses related to the malpractice. In theory, there is no legal limit to the future medical expenses that the Compensation Fund must pay to patients who require lifelong medical care as a result of past malpractice. Nevertheless, some patients have complained that the Compensation Fund has applied overly stringent restrictions to avoid fully compensating patients for ongoing medical expenses. More information about medical malpractice is available on our website. 

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