Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, medical professional, and/or healthcare organization fails to meet the standard duty of care that is required when managing, diagnosing, or treating a patient. This failure then results in injury to that patient. Failing to uphold the standard duty of care that is required of all medical professionals is generally associated with an act of negligence.
Medical malpractice law enables an injured patient to bring a legal claim against a negligent medical professional. It allows the patient to recover damages for the harms created and caused by the medical professional’s substandard conduct.
Whether a medical professional can be held liable for a patient’s injuries depends on the facts of each specific case, as well as the various rules and requirements of medical malpractice laws that are enacted in each specific state. It is important to note that the standards and regulations which govern medical malpractice can vary between different jurisdictions within the same state.
Medical malpractice liability refers to which person and/or organization should be held legally responsible for a patient’s injuries. Generally speaking, this party is the one who breached their duty of care and was the actual cause of the patient’s injuries. However, determining exactly who was in fact liable can sometimes prove to be a challenge. This is due to the fact that medical malpractice liability generally involves more than one party.
Damages for medical malpractice resemble those awarded in other personal injury cases. Economic damages are monetary amounts that can be measured and specifically calculated. These figures are based on specific harm, such as:
- Medical expenses;
- Hospital bills;
- Lost wages or loss of earning capacity; and
- Various other out of pocket costs associated with the injury.
Noneconomic damages are those that cannot be easily calculated into a monetary amount. These refer to intangible or immeasurable injuries, such as:
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of enjoyment; and
- Reputational damage.
Punitive damages are the least likely to be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Additionally, not every state allows for punitive damages. When awarded, such damages are intended to discourage the defendant from acting in such a way again. In states that do award punitive damages, there are generally caps placed on the amount that may be awarded.
What Are Medical Malpractice Damage Caps?
As previously discussed, economic damages in a medical malpractice case refer to actual monetary losses suffered by the victim. Noneconomic damages are monetary amounts awarded to a victim for unquantifiable losses.
In terms of medical malpractice damage caps, there are caps at both the federal and state levels. Although the United States Supreme Court has not specifically ruled on medical malpractice, it has ruled on tort reform. In the case State Farm v. Campbell (2003), the high Court ruled that punitive damages cannot exceed damages that are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries, by a nine to one ratio. An example of this would be if the plaintiff was awarded $1000 for their injuries. The defendant cannot be forced to give more than $9000 in punitive damages.
Many states retain laws that limit the damages available to medical malpractice plaintiffs. Most states limit only non-economic damages, as they are subjective and unquantifiable losses. States generally do not limit economic damages, as they are objective and quantifiable losses.
Damage caps vary by state. What this means is that a plaintiff may recover a higher amount for the same exact injury in one state, than a plaintiff suffering from the same exact harm in another state. An example of this would be how many states set damage caps maxing out at approximately $250,000, while other states allow the plaintiff to collect a much higher amount before a cap is placed.
In Wisconsin, damages for medical malpractice lawsuits are capped at $750,000. However, in California, they are limited to $250,000. These limitations are intended to prevent litigants from abusing the civil court system, and to prevent them from filing frivolous claims. A minority of states do not impose damage caps at all. As such, if a plaintiff brings a medical malpractice action in Wyoming or Kentucky, there would be no limit in collecting their monetary damages award.
There are also a handful of states that prohibit damage caps in situations involving wrongful death lawsuits. Because of this, if a deceased patient’s family member files a wrongful death suit based on a medical malpractice claim in Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, or New York, they will not face restrictions associated with the amount of damages that they can receive in those states.
Does Texas Cap Medical Malpractice Damages?
Similar to the majority of states, Texas medical malpractice caps are in place to limit the amount of damages that an injured patient may receive. Texas maintains three relevant categories of medical malpractice damage caps:
- Limitations on Non-Economic Damages: The limitations on damages vary according to whether the defendant is a healthcare provider, such as a physician, or a healthcare institution. If the defendant is a healthcare provider such as a physician, each claimant is limited to recovering $250,000 in non-economic damages. If the defendant is a single healthcare institution, such as a private practice, each claimant is limited to $250,000 in non-economic damages. If the judgment is rendered against more than one institution, such as a network of hospitals, each claimant is limited to $250,000 in non-economic damages per defendant. Additionally, each claimant may only recover a total of $500,000 in non-economic damages. It is important to note that none of these caps are indexed for inflation;
- Limitations on Total Damages in Wrongful Death and Survival Actions: Texas medical malpractice wrongful death caps are set at $500,000 in total damages for each claimant. This amount for a survival action against a healthcare provider is in 1977 dollars, or approximately $1.8 million, when accounting for inflation. The cap does not apply to any necessary medical, hospital, or custodian care that was received before the judgment, or that is required in the future; and
- Limitations on Punitive Damages: Additionally, the state of Texas limits punitive damages. As previously mentioned, punitive damages are intended to penalize the defendant for outrageous or malicious conduct. Punitive damages are also intended to deter such conduct in the future. In the state of Texas, plaintiffs are allowed to recover punitive damages of up to $200,000; or, twice the amount of economic plus non-economic damages, up to $750,000. What is awarded is determined by whichever figure is greater between the two.
Do I Need a Texas Lawyer?
If you or a loved one have been injured by a medical professional, you should consult with an experienced and local Texas personal injury lawyer. To reiterate, many of the laws associated with medical malpractice, and caps on damage recovery, vary from state to state. As such, if the malpractice occurred in Texas, you would want to work with a Texas lawyer so that you receive the most relevant legal advice.
An experienced and local personal injury lawyer can help determine your next legal step, and will also be able to file a claim on your behalf, and represent you in court, as needed.