In a medical malpractice case, the legal remedy usually consists of a monetary damages award paid by the defendant to the victim. This is a monetary amount that is intended to reimburse the plaintiff for any losses caused by the medical malpractice. This usually covers losses associated with the malpractice, including additional hospital bills, lost work wages, and pharmaceutical costs.
Some medical malpractice claims can lead to very high damages awards. This is often the case where the plaintiff suffered very serious or egregious bodily damage due to the negligence. However, fraudulent medical malpractice lawsuits are sometimes filed with the sole intention of collecting inflated or over-estimated damage awards. Due to the prevalence of these types of false claims, many states have enacted “damage caps” on medical malpractice awards.
How Can Medical Malpractice Damage Be Awarded?
To get damages for a medical malpractice claim, the patient has to prove that there was an actual medical malpractice. To get a damage award, the patient must show that:
- the medical malpractice caused the damages to the patient in some way
- the damages that was caused by the medical malpractice has a special price tag that cannot be remedied in any other way
- the injury did not exist before the medical malpractice
What Are the Types of Damages Awarded in a Medical Malpractice Case?
There are three different types of damages that are available in a medical malpractice case that can be recovered by the patient:
1) General Damages: General damages are designed to compensate for the patient's cost that they suffered. Common examples of general damages are:
- loss of enjoyment of life caused by the medical defect
- physical and mental pain and suffering
- loss of future earning capacity because of the medical defect
2) Special Damages: Special damages are designed to cover the patients expenses that they incurred because of the medical malpractice. These can be past medical expenses, future medical bills and expenses
3) Punitive Damages: In some cases, a patient may recover punitive damages if the doctors act was willful and malicious or the doctor knew or should have known that an injury will result. Punitive damages vary from state to state.
What Are Damage Caps in a Malpractice Claim?
Damage caps are basically limits on medical malpractice award amounts. Some states may enforce a “ceiling” amount, which is a maximum amount of damages that the plaintiff can receive, regardless of the types of injuries sustained by the victim. These limits can vary by state.
For instance, in California, there is a $250,000 limit for non-economic damages claimed by the plaintiff; in Michigan the cap is $280,000 for non-economic damages. These types of limitations are intended to prevent abuses of the civil legal system as well as the filing of frivolous legal claims.
What Are Some Other Considerations with Medical Malpractice Damages?
Some other legal factors can change the way that damage awards are calculated in a medical malpractice claim. For instance, the following may reduce the amount of damages that the plaintiff can recover:
- Pre-existing medical conditions: The plaintiff’s damages award may be reduced if it’s proven that the injuries they sustained were simply an aggravation of a medical condition that existed before the malpractice.
- Patient negligence: The patient’s own negligence may reduce the amount of damages that they can claim. For instance, if the patient failed to follow the doctor’s instructions, their damages award may be reduced.
In some states, patient negligence can even prohibit the plaintiff from recovering damages at all. This may vary depending on the state laws, and also on the plaintiff’s actual conduct.
Can a Personal Representative Recover Damages Based on Death of a Patient?
Yes. All states have laws that determine whether a personal representative can recover damages if the medical malpractice results in a patients death. These laws are called survivor statutes. A survival statute allows the patient's heirs or estate to recover damages that occurred during the period of the initial medical malpractice to the time of the patient's death.
These damages generally include everything that a normal medical malpractice case awards as if the patient survived and brought their own claim. A patient's estate or heir can also bring a wrongful death claim for their future monetary loss in case of a medical malpractice that results in patient's death.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Medical Malpractice Damage Award?
Calculating a damages award in a medical malpractice lawsuit can often be a highly technical process. You may need a personal injury lawyer to assist you if you will be filing a medical malpractice claim with the court. Your attorney can provide you with the necessary legal representation to help you obtain a damages award. Also, your lawyer can help you understand how the laws in your area may affect your malpractice claim.