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State Limits on Medical Malpractice Awards

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What Are State Limits on Medical Malpractice Awards?

Medical malpractice claims can be very expensive to pursue.  At the same time, many states limit the amount of non-economic damages that a victim can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit.  It is important to consider these limitations before pursuing a costly medical malpractice case. 

What's the Difference Between Economic and Non-Economic Damages?

Economic damages in a medical malpractice case refer to actual monetary losses suffered by the victim including medical bills, lost wages and loss of future earnings.  Non-economic damages are monies awarded to a victim for unquantifiable losses such as pain and suffering.

Are There Any Federal Caps On Medical Malpractice Awards?

Yes. Although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on medical malpractice specifically, it has ruled on tort reform, which medical malpractice is a part of. In the case State Farm v. Campbell (2003), the high Court ruled that punitive damages cannot exceed damages awarded to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries by a nine to one ratio. For example, if the plaintiff was awarded $1000 for his or her injuries, the defendant cannot be forced to give more than $9000 for punitive damages.

What are the State Limits on Non-Economic Damages?

Many states limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.  For example:

  • California & Colorado: The state places a $ 250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
  • Florida:
    • In emergency room cases, the state limits a victim's recovery for non-economic damages to $150,000 from each physician and hospital involved in the medical malpractice case.
    • For non-emergencies, the state limits a victim's recovery for non-economic damages to $500,000 from each physician, with an aggregate cap of $1 million for all claimants.  
    • For non-emergencies, the state limits a victim's recovery for non-economic damages to $750,000 from each hospital, HMO, hospice provider and other non-physician provider, with a $1. 5 million aggregate cap for all claimants.
    • The cap may be raised in nonemergency situations if a judge determines it would be unjust not to exceed the cap.
  • Kansas: $250,000 award cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
  • Maryland: As of October 1, 2003, the state limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases was $635,000.  This limit increases $15,000 every year.
  • Massachusetts: The state places a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
  • Michigan
    • The state places a $280,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.  The cap is adjusted annually for inflation.
    • However, in some cases (i.e., hemiplegic, paraplegic, or quadriplegic due to brain injury or spinal cord, or permanently impaired cognitive injury) the cap is raised to $500,000.
  • North Carolina: Starting in 2011, there is a $500,000 cap on medical malpractice cases. The cap includes suits against hospitals or nursing homes for vicarious liability. An exception applies if the injury to the plaintiff was extremely high and the defendant’s conduct was extremely poor. For example, a defendant who causes death or permanent disfigurement through intentional action or gross negligence will not trigger the damage cap.
  • Texas: The state limits a victim's recovery for non-economic damages to $ 250,000 from each physician involved in the medical malpractice case, with a $250,000 cap against any single institution and a $500,000 cap on all health-care institutions combined.

Which States Forbid the Use of Caps On Medical Malpractice Awards?

The following states have no state statutory limits on awards for medical malpractice, either because the state constitution forbids it or because the state courts have struck such limits down as unconstitutional. 

  • Alabama, unconstitutional by state courts.
  • Arizona, unconstitutional by state constitution.
  • Arkansas, unconstitutional by state constitution.
  • Georgia, unconstitutional by state courts.
  • Illinois, unconstitutional by state courts.
  • Kentucky, unconstitutional by state constitution.
  • New Hampshire, unconstitutional by state courts.
  • Missouri, unconstitutional by state courts.
  • Ohio, unconstitutional for wrongful death cases by state constitution.
  • Pennsylvania, unconstitutional by state constitution. Exception for employees injured during the course of employment.
  • Washington, unconstitutional by state courts.
  • Wyoming, unconstitutional by state constitution.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Pursuing a medical malpractice claim can be very difficult.  An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights, privileges and your state's limits of recovery.  A medical malpractice attorney can also represent you in court and file any necessary paperwork.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 03-19-2014 11:12 AM PDT

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