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Louisiana high court lifts procedural hurdle delaying Katrina lawsuits

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled 4-3 [PDF text] Wednesday that a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that a hospital negligently failed to provide emergency power to sustain life support systems or implement an adequate evacuation plan could proceed without first passing through a medical review panel, a process that can take a year or more to complete. The suit was brought by the relatives of a Louisiana woman who was admitted into a hospital one day before Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] struck New Orleans. She died after the hospital was unable to provide power for her portable ventilator or transport her to another facility after the storm knocked out power to the hospital. The majority found that the complaint alleged claims more similar to products liability and general negligence than to medical malpractice, which under the Louisiana statute at issue requires an allegation that a deficiency in professional medical skill caused the injury.

Wednesday's decision is viewed as a victory for the hundreds of Hurricane Katrina victims who suffered similar injuries while in the hospital's care. One dissenting judge wrote that the case essentially alleged medical malpractice because the actual cause of death resulted "from the hospital's failure to provide life-sustaining care, i.e., failure of treatment." AP has more.

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