June 30th, 2018
Burchfield v. Wright
Opinion Date: June 27, 2018
Judge: Greg G. Guidry
Areas of Law: Civil Procedure, Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury
The defendant surgeon ordered pre-operative tests including a chest x-ray and an electrocardiogram (“EKG”) before performing non-emergency gallbladder surgery on the plaintiff. However, defendant did not review the results of these tests prior to performing the surgery, but had he done so, the tests would have alerted him to potential issues with plaintiff’s heart necessitating the ordering of a cardiac consult prior to surgery. Although the surgery itself was successful and uneventful, some thirty or so hours after discharge, plaintiff suffered a heart attack and eventually had to undergo a heart transplant. Plaintiff and his wife brought suit against defendant alleging medical malpractice. The defendant surgeon settled, and the Louisiana Patients’ Compensation Fund (“PCF”) intervened. After a trial against the PCF, the jury declined to find plaintiffs had proven the surgeon’s failure to review the test results and to refer his patient to a cardiologist before performing the surgery had caused the patient to suffer the subsequent heart attack that ultimately necessitated a heart transplant. Instead, the jury found plaintiffs had proven the defendant’s breach of the standard of care had resulted in the loss of a less than even chance of a better outcome. The jury awarded plaintiffs lump sum general damages, which the trial court in its judgment made subject to the Medical Malpractice Act’s limitation on the total amount recoverable by plaintiffs, La. Rev. Stat. 40:1231.2. The court of appeal found legal error in what it deemed to be a “patently inconsistent” jury verdict in light of the verdict form, but it nonetheless found the jury’s determination that plaintiffs had proven a lost chance of a better outcome was clearly supported by the record. The court of appeal then awarded general damages (affirming the trial court’s award), but it also awarded special damages, including past medicals, future medicals, and lost wages, which it did not subject to the Medical Malpractice Act’s limitation on the total amount recoverable. The Louisiana Supreme Court found the court of appeal erred in its decision, reversed it, and reinstated the jury’s verdict, the award of lump sum general damages, and the trial court’s judgment.
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