State statutes may determine whether or not your damages will be limited or capped when it applies to medical malpractice cases. What is a cap? Some states will place a limit, also known as a cap, on the amount of money that an injured plaintiff will be able to receive. This applies even in cases where their medical malpractice case is successful and a jury has found that a health care professional is liable for medical malpractice.
Compensation Limits: Non-Economic Damage Caps
What are economic damages? They are concrete damages that the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s insurance company has paid out or will continue to pay out as the result of an injury. This could include medical bills stemming from the injuries. They are also concrete amounts that the plaintiff could miss out on, such as lost wages.
On the opposite side of things, non-economic damages apply to damages in which pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life would be a part of. A jury doesn’t base a plaintiff’s non-economic damage awards on past losses and future calculations, unlike with economic damages. It has to make a more subjective evaluation.
When it applies to medical malpractice cases, many states will indeed have non-economic damage caps. The cap amounts may vary, however, as many will find. These could range anywhere from $350,000 to $750,000.
Compensation Limits: Punitive Damage Caps
To understand these types of caps, one must understand what punitive damages are. They are designed to punish intentional wrongdoing and deter future bad conduct. They are also usually based on the defendant’s wealth. Before reforms on these damage caps, if a plaintiff was able to prove that a very wealthy defendant intentionally caused the plaintiff’s harm, the punitive damage award could vastly exceed other damages involved in the case. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court put guidelines in place to prevent excessive punitive damage award. However, those guidelines still permitted some pretty large awards.
Things really depend on the state. Some states have fixed caps that can range from a low $250,000 to a high $10,000,000. Others will have a fixed multiplier based on other damages in the case.
Joint and Several Liability
Under this rule, a plaintiff would be able to collect the full amount of damages from one defendant, even in a case where multiple defendants were at fault. The rationale was that the plaintiff shouldn’t be punished just because one of the defendants was broke or impossible to find. It became more fair for a partially at-fault defendant to pay more than his or her share of the liability to make the plaintiff whole.
Collateral Source Rule
This prevents the defendant from presenting at trial evidence that the plaintiff has received compensation for the injuries from another source, like their medical insurance. The jury would reduce the plaintiff’s damages if they heard about the other compensation. Most insurers would end up collecting from the plaintiff’s damage award what they had paid out. In medical malpractice actions, many states have modified the rule of collateral source. A number of these rule statutes have been rules out as ‘unconstitutional’ by state courts.
If you believe you have a potential case, you may want to contact a lawyer today. Medical malpractice laws can be quite complex and you will want an attorney on your side to review your claim. Call WTW today for more information.