Nearly all medical malpractice claims in New Orleans must be screened by a Medical Review Panel prior to proceeding to court. The purpose of the Medical Review Panel – which consists of three medical providers – is to render an expert opinion regarding whether the medical provider against whom a claim is being made violated the appropriate standard of medical care. The panel issues a written report, which is admissible as an expert opinion at later court proceedings.
Recently, in McGlothlin v Christus St. Patrick’s Hospital, 2010-2775 (La. 7/1/11), the Louisiana Supreme Court clarified that the purpose of the Medical Review Panel is to determine whether the appropriate standard of medical care was violated and, if so, whether that violation resulted in an injury to the plaintiff. If the panel’s written decision extends into areas not requiring medical expertise, the opinion is not admissible in a court proceeding.
In the case leading to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision, the Medical Review Panel submitted a finding that the medical provider had not violated the appropriate standard of care. It reached this conclusion not because of medical proof, however, but because it did not find the testimony of the plaintiff and her family regarding how the injury occurred to be credible. The trial court had allowed a redacted version of the panel’s report to be admitted as evidence at trial, and the medical provider was subsequently found not to have committed malpractice by the jury.
Upon reviewing the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court found that, even its redacted form, the finding of the Medical Review Panel should not have been admitted as evidence. The Court held that the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act only allowed the panel to express its expert opinion regarding the standard of care and whether it was violated. Issues such as the credibility of a witness do not require expert medical opinion, and are properly the province of the jury – not the medical panel – to determine. As a result, the opinion of the panel should never have been provided to the jury.
While this ruling may be helpful to future plaintiffs, it should be noted that it did not help the plaintiff in this case. The Louisiana Supreme Court also ruled that, based on a review of all the evidence presented at trial, the jury did not err in exonerating the defendant.
If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, we would be happy to help you. Please feel free to call us at 504-581-6411 or 855-GERTLER.