When a person is injured as the result of a preventable mistake by a medical professional, the impact on every aspect of his or her life may be extreme. In addition, it may lead to ripple effects on that person’s immediate families and loved ones, who may have to take care of the injured person or go get other jobs in order to pay bills. The concept of compensation from a medical malpractice case is that the monetary award is intended to make a person whole after suffering from a preventable mistake. However, these damages awards have been portrayed as windfalls by the insurance company adjusters. After significant lobbying, this misperception has led to damages caps on medical malpractice awards, which often means that people who are suffering do not receive the compensation that they deserve.
Types of Damages Caps
There are a number of different types of caps that may be in place, depending on the jurisdiction. Most often, the cap is on the award of non-economic damages, which is awarded for pain and suffering caused by the medical malpractice. What this means is that the award for economic damages, which are based on the actual financial losses caused by the mistake of the healthcare provider, will reflect actual losses, but the amount established for the pain and suffering of the victim will be limited, or capped, by the specific laws of the state in which the case is brought. If the amount of harm that resulted from the medical mistake is limited, then there normally is not a significant from the cap. However, when a person’s life has been impacted at every level, from the ability to pursue the career that he or she wanted, to participating in activities that providing joy prior to the medical mistake, to even the ability to get up in the morning and carry out the most basic of daily tasks, then an economic cap can have a devastating impact on the person’s recovery.
The Reason Why Many Jurisdictions Cap Non-Economic Damages
While it is relatively easy to demonstrate in a courtroom how a person and/or his or her family have been impacted financially by economic harm, such as lost wages, lost benefits, and lost opportunity to advance in a career, as well as out-of-pocket expenses, it is more difficult to show how much a person has been impacted through pain and suffering. Often, this award of damages is based on a valuation made by a jury, where they are basing the compensation on their own common sense and collective experience. Insurance adjusters have argued, often successfully, that this basis for a large award is too speculative and leads to awards that are far too large for the type of injury that was suffered by the victim, leading to strict limits on how large this portion of the damages can be. Although these caps do vary from state to state, the fact is that they often severely curtail the award of compensation that a person deserves.
The Different Types of Caps
There are a number of different ways in which a state can treat damages awards in medical malpractice cases. The state can impose no limits on the award of damages, which means that the jury can make whatever decisions it deems reasonable and that amount of money will be ordered to be paid to the plaintiff. How this works is as follows:
- Jury awards $250,000.00 for medical expenses for the treatment and reconstructive surgery that the plaintiff had to endure as a result of medical mistake;
- Jury awards $1 million for lost wages and benefits over the life of the plaintiff who no longer can work in the same capacity as he did before the malpractice; and
- Jury awards $1,750,000.00 for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
Since the state does not impose any type of damages cap, the entire jury award of $3 million is ordered to be paid to the plaintiff. However, the state may cap the award of non-economic damages, which is a limit on pain and suffering. If the cap is $500,000.00, then the plaintiff will receive $1,250,000.00 in economic losses and another $500,000.00 for the limit on pain and suffering, for a total of $1,750,000.00. If the state imposes an overall limit of $750,000.00, which is relatively unusual, then the plaintiff may receive only $750,000.00 in total, even though the jury placed a much higher value on the harm that was done as a result of the mistake.
Stern Law, PLLC Works Hard for Its Clients
Medical malpractice often leads to devastating consequences, but when the state limits the amount that a person can recover, it is even more tragic. At Stern Law, PLLC, our attorney has spent more than 30 years doing everything possible to get the best outcome that can be achieved under the applicable laws. In addition, we provide resources about medical malpractice and the various options for those who may be impacted by a terrible mistake. We have compassionate and committed staff available to answer questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call us at 1-844-808-7529 or fill out an online contact form in order to learn how we can help you get through this difficult time.