Medical malpractice is a legal issue that arises when doctors and other medical professionals make mistakes when they are treating their patients. The scope of medical malpractice may include:
- Lack of treatment; or
- Other departure from accepted standards of medical care, health care, or safety on the part of a healthcare provider that results in harm to a patient.
Medical malpractice liability refers to which individuals should be held legally responsible for a patent’s injuries. In general, this is the party who breached their duty of care and was the actual cause of the injuries.
Examples of entities or parties who can be held liable for medical malpractice include, but may not be limited to:
- A doctor is liable if their actions failed to meet the generally accepted standards of practice;
- The hospital can be held liable for improper care or inadequate training in terms of the healthcare professionals; or
- A nurse or other medical staff who attended to the patient could be held liable if they contributed to the patient’s injury.
A hospital may also be held liable for a patient’s injuries under the legal theory of respondeat superior. Under this theory, employers may be held liable for negligent acts of their employees if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment when the conduct occurred.
An employer may be forced to pay damages to an injured party. They may even be required to pay punitive damages in especially egregious cases of medical malpractice.
Common examples of medical malpractice claims include:
What Are Medical Malpractice Damage Awards?
In cases of medical malpractice, the legal remedies often include a monetary damages award. This amount is intended to reimburse the injured plaintiff for the losses that were caused by the medical malpractice, including:
- Additional hospital bills;
- Lost work wages; or
- Pharmaceutical costs.
There are certain types of medical malpractice claims that result in high damages awards, especially in cases where a plaintiff suffered serious or egregious bodily damage as a result of the negligence. There have been fraudulent medical malpractice claims filed with the intent to collect an inflated or over-estimated damages award.
Because of these types of claims, many states have put damage caps on medical malpractice awards.
What Are Medical Malpractice Damage Caps?
As previously noted, numerous states have placed limits on the amount of damages a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit. It may be helpful to understand the differences between economic and non-economic damages before discussing damage caps.
Economic damages, or specific damages, are those damages that are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for their actual, measurable losses. Typically, states do not place limits on this category of damages.
In medical malpractice cases, specifically, damages awarded generally include:
- Hospital bills;
- Therapy costs for emotional or mental issues brought on by the injury;
- The cost of medication;
- Ambulance bills;
- Lost wages; and
- Lost future earnings.
The amount of economic damages is calculated by adding together the amounts that have been documented on:
- Hospital invoices;
- Pharmacy receipts; and
- Various other medical bills.
In medical malpractice lawsuits, expert witnesses in that specific medical field must demonstrate that a physician did not adhere to the stand of care. A medical expert witness can also assess the complicated medical facts of the case to help determine whether or not the physician should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Non-economic damages, also called general damages, are those damages that are not measurable. These damages cannot be calculated by adding documented bills and receipts.
These general damages compensate for non-monetary losses and may include:
- The injury itself;
- Emotional distress;
- Disability or disfigurement;
- Pain and suffering;
- Physical impairment;
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss related to the plaintiff’s reputation; or
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Due to the fact that these damages are subjective, the amount varies from case to case and is subject to strict guidelines provided by each individual jurisdiction. In some states, the medical malpractice laws only allow a plaintiff to recover non-economic damages based on proof of economic damages, which are calculated using a specific formula in proportion to the economic damages.
In other words, they are also subject to a statutory cap. A damage cap is a limit on medical malpractice award amounts.
In some states, there is a maximum, or ceiling amount, that a plaintiff is eligible to receive regardless of the types of injuries they sustained. These damages limits vary by state.
For example, in California, there is a $250,000 limit for non-economic damages claimed by the plaintiff. In Michigan, however, the cap is $280,000 for non-economic damages.
Does New York Cap Medical Malpractice Damages?
New York medical malpractice laws do not place any restrictions on how much an individual can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit. When an individual is suing for medical malpractice in New York, it is important to remember that the state is 1 of only 15 that does not impose medical malpractice damages caps.
This may have an effect on medical malpractice settlements in New York, making defendants more willing to offer settlement amounts to avoid a potentially unlimited damages award against them. Out of the 35 states that do have medical malpractice damages caps, California, Texas, and Colorado have some of the lowest limitations on non-economic damages, capped at $250,000.
There are other states, for example, Florida, that limit non-economic damages to $500,000.
Why Do Some States Cap Medical Malpractice Damages?
There are several reasons why a state may place a cap on medical malpractice damages. These types of caps on non-economic damages are intended to lower a physicians’ liability, which leads to decreased malpractice insurance rates.
Consumer activists, however, have criticized these caps for preventing injured children from recovering an amount that would be equal to their lifelong pain and suffering. In addition, some recent trial decisions in other states have found that these caps are unconstitutional.
There are reports of doctors who have fled New York State and have gone to states with limits on non-economic damages, for example, Texas, because of the lower premiums. For example, birth injury damages may amount to more than $10 million in New York state because of injuries that lead to cerebral palsy cause a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Seeking Legal Help
If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligence of a doctor or other healthcare professional or system in the State of New York, you should consult with a New York personal injury lawyer as soon as you are able. Your lawyer can advise you of your rights and the remedies that may be available to you.
Your attorney can review your case, determine if you can file a claim, and calculate the potential value of the injuries. These types of cases require testimony from medical experts as well as in-depth evidence presentation that is best done by a trained professional.
During what is likely already a very stressful and difficult time, your best chance at recovering for the injuries you suffered is having a lawyer handle your case.