8.11.2011

Final Call Assignment: Judge oks $25 million settlement in Katrina hospital suit



by Jesse Muhammad for The Final Call Newspaper (FinalCall.com

A Louisiana judge has given a preliminary approval to a $25 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit by plaintiffs against a New Orleans hospital that was submerged in flood waters after the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina.

The settlement was reached between Tenet Healthcare Corp, which owned New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center at the time, and an undisclosed number of plaintiffs who were either being cared for in the hospital or said family members died due to hospital negligence.

 “It is a shame that people who suffered so much during and after Katrina has waited this long to receive compensation. The wheels of justice grind very slowly in this city,” Jacques Morial, a health rights advocate, told The Final Call.

 The lawsuit, filed on behalf of at least 187 people, charges that Tenet Healthcare failed to properly prepare the hospital for the storm or establish evacuation plans. Backup power generators malfunctioned after floodwaters surrounded the hospital and the temperature inside escalated. Reportedly 45 patients lost their lives and some doctors later admitted to unethically euthanizing patients. Tenet Healthcare argued that the fault should be laid at the feet of the breached levees and the slothful response of FEMA.

 “This $25 million can in no way fully compensate for what people have endured all of these years since Katrina. I believe they purposely drag on cases like this in hopes that people will get word out and will eventually settle for less than what they receive. It's good that the people are getting something but we should never think this amount matches the full damages done to their lives,” said Mr. Morial, who is also the brother of former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial.

 On July 20, Civil District Judge Rosemary Ledet granted the preliminary approval and said it was “fair, reasonable and adequate.” A fairness hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27 to allow plaintiffs time to object to the amount of the settlement if they so choose. Once the final approval is made Gilbert Andry IV, a court-appointed Special Master, will determine how much each plaintiff will receive.

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