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Paralysis From Misdiagnosis Of Spinal Injury Encounters A Federal Cap On Recoverable Damages

In a U.S. District Court in Louisiana, Judge S. Maurice Hicks has allowed a motion for provisional appeal in a case where the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) and Louisiana medical malpractice laws require caps on damages. Michelle and Gregory Scott filed suit after their daughter was rendered paralyzed after a misdiagnosis of a spinal cord injury by a hospital. The plaintiffs feel that their claim is not subject to these laws and their associated limitations.

This young girl entered the ER and Northern Louisiana Medical Center showing signs of neurological problems linked to her arms and legs. Apparently the hospital policy for ordering an MRI requires that staff receive some authorization for coverage of the test from the patient’s insurer. It was later determined that the girl had a spinal cord hematoma, which was unresponsive to treatment and led to paralysis. The malpractice claim was filed with the Louisiana patient compensation fund in accordance with state law. One physician involved in case deposition confirmed that the hospital policy of confirming insurance coverage for MRIs could have been a factor in the delay in moving forward with the test and diagnosis.

This inquiry by the U.S. Court of Appeals may have a significant impact on related cases associated with EMTALA medical malpractice in hospitals. A Bloomberg columnist reported that several health-care lawyers think this matter could be elevated to the U.S Supreme Court, based on the often serious damages that EMTALA covers. The Louisiana medical malpractice laws allow for a maximum of $500,000 in recovery for damages. Judge Hicks believes that these federal damage limitations do apply in states where the incidents do qualify as malpractice under the provisions of the law.

The challenge for the Appeals Court will be to assess if claims under EMTALA are not subjected to such limitations on damages or if perhaps the issue should be addresses based on the circumstances of the case. Apparently some portions of the EMTALA seem to not completely apply based on the standards that exist in some states. An example provided was when the medical provider was fully compliant with procedural protocol; however, simply exhibited negligence through misdiagnosis.

The court has already dismissed claims against the hospital CEO and claims of intentional tort. The appeals court will review the concern about the damages, and does have authority to review the entire case as well. In a 2005 case in the Louisiana Eastern District U.S Court, they ruled that the EMTALA preempts any malpractice laws at the state level and related caps on damages.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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