The long battle over the constitutionality of Louisiana’s medical liability damages cap continues. In 2006, the state’s intermediate appellate court, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, struck down the state’s total damages cap of $500,000, excluding future medical expenses, as unconstitutionally burdening patients’ access to recovery and ruled that in today’s dollars, the cap is worth only $160,000. Arrington v. ER Physicians Group, APMC; Taylor v. Richard J. Clements, M.D., Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund.
On February 24th, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional issue over the value of the cap in today’s dollars was not raised at the intermediate appellate level and could not be decided. It therefore vacated the two cases consolidated for appeal and instructed the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to address the issues originally raised, to wit:
1. Whether the cap violates patients’ due process rights by predetermining the amount they can recover;
2. Whether the cap violates the constitutional separation of powers and the authority of the courts by allowing the legislature to decide an award limit; and
3. Whether the cap is an unconstitutional special law that applies only to medical liability cases.
Although the February 24th decision simply avoided the merits of the constitutional issues, many in the medical community in Louisiana are praising the decision if for no other reason than for its effect in delaying a ruling on the substance of the issues which effectively leaves the cap intact. The justices of the Supreme Court gave no indication in their opinion as to how they would ultimately rule on the constitutional issues raised by the plaintiffs.
According to the intermediate appeals decision giving rise to the appeal decided on February 24th, the present value of the $500,000 cap established in 1975 should be between $1.6 and $1.7 million. Although the state legislature has taken no action to increase the cap since its enactment, some hold out hope that theLouisiana legislature will preempt the protracted appeals process that will continue as a result of the remand and will amendthe cap to adjust upward the limits of liability. Whether any such amendment will end the appeals in this case is questionable, particularly if the legislation is proactive and not retroactive in its application.