There are 30 states, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which impose limits or caps on non-economic awards in medical malpractice cases. A handful of states have ruled that such limits are unconstitutional. In 2010, Georgia ruled that its limit on non-economic awards in medical negligence cases was in violation of the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by denying victims the right to a jury trial. The violation is the court’s rejection of the jury’s decision to award the victim whatever sum it deemed just and appropriate.
In Louisiana, a large verdict against a nurse practitioner was reduced by the trial court to comport with its state law that non-economic awards in medical malpractice cases be no more than $500,000. The state’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court in ruling that it violated the victim’s right to equal protection, and noted the severe damages and diminished quality of life the young victim was now forced to live.
Louisiana still imposes caps in medical malpractice claims but distinguished this case because the nurse practitioner was allowed to practice without the rigorous education and other training that most health care providers must perform before obtaining their licenses. Here, the defendant nurse had only a high school education and had been exempted from having to acquire a nursing degree under a “grandfather” clause.
Presumably, Louisiana still upholds the cap on medical malpractice awards overall and would have in this case had the nurse held a standard nursing degree. Still, the decision gives impetus to advocates who hope to eviscerate the damages cap on any type of case. The $500,000 limit was imposed over 30 years ago and efforts to increase it have been unsuccessful.