Louisiana's Supreme Court must decide whether a plaintiff in a wrongful death suit can choose between the court where the wrong occurred and the court where the death occurred.
In a case the Justices heard on Sept. 9, mother Latisha Holland blames malpractice at Lincoln General Hospital in Ruston for the death of daughter Mar'kirney Holland.
Holland sued the hospital and physician Hao Nguyen in Orleans Parish, where the child died, and District Judge Sidney Cates accepted jurisdiction.
"He basically volunteered for it, and that's in his discretion," Holland's lawyer, Juan Tramontana of Monroe, told the Justices.
Hospital lawyer Robert Robison of Baton Rouge said, "This is really a classic case of forum shopping."
"It's in opposite corners of the state of Louisiana," Robison said.
Shortly after the child's birth, doctors at Tulane University inserted a shunt in the child's brain to relieve hydrocephalus.
They revised her shunt twice in four years.
Latisha Holland brought her to the emergency room at Lincoln General in 2005.
After a brain scan, the hospital sent her to Tulane by ambulance.
She died there a day and a half later.
At oral argument, Robison said nurses would have to travel 300 miles to testify and doctors would miss days of practice.
Justice Bernette Johnson asked if the cause of action accrued when the death occurred.
Robison asked her to separate the where from the when, and said venue is proper where damage was sustained.
Justice Jeannette Knoll asked if there were witnesses in New Orleans.
Robison said Holland listed some but their testimony would be irrelevant.
Knoll asked if the child had been in New Orleans for medical reasons throughout her life, and Robison said yes.
For Nguyen, David Nelson of Monroe briefly echoed Robison's argument.
Tramontana told the Justices the death made the venue appropriate.
"I agree completely that wrongful conduct was entirely in Lincoln Parish," Tramontana said.
Justice Greg Guidry asked why it wasn't logical that damages accrue at the same time an act occurred.
Tramontana said, "Sometimes that doesn't happen."
Guidry said death could have occurred anywhere en route.
Tramontana said, "The damages were set in motion in Lincoln Parish."
"I can't sue for wrongful death if I don't have somebody that died," Tramontana said.
He said he would need testimony from Tulane doctors.
Justice John Weimer said, "That's all kind of background testimony. They are not going to dispute any of that."
He said critical testimony would come from the treating physician.
Tramontana said, "I am going to have to explain all this to a jury."
He said doctors in New Orleans would testify on the standard of care.
On rebuttal, Robison said Holland filed an identical suit in Lincoln Parish a day after she sued in Orleans Parish.
Johnson said, "He was cautious."
She said that if one suit got knocked out, the other wouldn't be proscribed.
Robison said Tramontana could find a doctor to explain a shunt.
Knoll asked if the child's death brought new damages.
Robison said, "There's no law saying if you die here, venue is proper here."
Knoll said, "Would you agree that when that child died, the mother suffered damages?"
Robison said yes.
The Justices took it under advisement.