On February 2, 2007, the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated [Footnote] two decisions out of the Louisiana Third Circuit (Lake Charles), Taylor v. Clement and Arrington v. Galen-Med., Inc. et al. Taylor/Arrington garnered much attention in September 2006 when the Third Circuit declared Louisiana’s medical malpractice cap, La. R.S. 40:1299.42(B) (a statute that has survived countless constitutional challenges since its enactment in the mid-1970s), unconstitutional. The Third Circuit reasoned that the $500,000 cap on damages did not provide the plaintiffs with “an adequate remedy” when considering the purported diminution of the cap over time due to inflation. The adequate remedy challenge to the constitutionality of a statute is derived from Article I, Section 22 of the Louisiana Constitution. Under current law, the $500,000 cap does not include future medical care costs and related expenses; it does, however, include pain and suffering, lost wages and other damages.
The Louisiana Supreme Court found that the Third Circuit’s judgment was not properly before the Court on procedural grounds. The plaintiffs did not plead the “adequate remedy” challenge of La. Const. Art. I, Section 22 at the trial court; rather, it was raised for the first time at the Third Circuit. Usually, at the trial court level, a contradictory hearing occurs where all parties are afforded the opportunity to brief and argue constitutional issues. No such contradictory hearing took place at the appellate level in these cases. The Louisiana Supreme Court explained that constitutional challenges must be raised in trial courts, not appellate courts. Notably, the case was remanded (that is, sent back) to the Third Circuit to consider the remaining issues involved in the appeal.
The Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision preserves the constitutionality of Louisiana’s medical malpractice cap for the present time. It is unclear whether the Third Circuit will address the constitutionality of the cap on remand, but the possibility still remains that the Third Circuit could declare the cap unconstitutional again on the same or other grounds. Such a decision could take up to 1 to 2 years, or more, to transpire, depending on whether the Third Circuit rules on the record before it or decides to remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The ruling is good news for health care providers in the short term. The ruling does not, however, provide any long term stability regarding the cap and its continued viability. Nor does the ruling lend guidance to the State Legislature, should it decide to address the state’s medical malpractice cap in the future.
Footnote: The word “vacate” in this sense means that the judgment was annulled, set aside or made legally void.