What Damages are Available in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

ISTOCK IMAGE ID 29465616Damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit are generally designed to compensate the plaintiff for medical bills, loss of future earnings, or loss of enjoyment of life resulting from a case of medical malpractice. If the patient dies, monetary damages can also be awarded to the patient’s family and heirs. In any medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must show not only that the medical malpractice caused some kind of damage, but also that a monetary award can be assigned to the damages. There are three categories of damages available in a medical malpractice case.

General damages are available to compensate for a patient’s suffering. These types of losses cannot have a definite price tag, but since they are definitively real they can warrant damages.

These type of loss includes:

  • loss of enjoyment of life
  • physical and mental pain and suffering
  • loss of future earning capacity.

The actual amount of monetary damages varies and depends entirely on the specifics of the case. When determining a specific amount, the plaintiff and other relevant people will provide evidence on the patient’s pain and suffering, loss of future earning capacity, and whatever else the patient claims they need damages for. They may have an expert testify on behalf of the patient to give evidence about the nature of the patient’s suffering. There may be need for expert testimony to determine future earning capacity in cases where the patient is young and will be impaired for the rest of their life. Damages are not available for injuries existing before the malpractice occurred.

Special damages are available to cover expenses that are more easily calculated, such as medical bills and past work missed due to the injury. It is usually possible to come up with an exact amount of special damages, since medical bill expenses can be determined easily when the patient submits a certified copy of the medical bill. Still, there may be need for some estimation and possibly expert testimony, depending on the facts of the case.

Punitive damages may be able to be recovered in select situations. Punitive damages are designed to punish the offender for acting in a particularly harmful and egregious manner. Generally, punitive damages are awarded in medical malpractice cases when it is determined that the doctor was aware they were causing harm to the patient. For instance, if a doctor intentionally botched a surgery so that the patient would have to come in for a second surgery, it is likely the patient would receive punitive damages. The amount of these damages varies, but it usually cannot be more than several times the amount of the general and special damages.

It is important to note that in every state, there is a cap on how much damages a patient can receive for medical malpractice. In California, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) holds that a patient cannot be awarded more than $250,000 for non-economic damages, meaning general damages. There is no cap for damages awarded for economic damages, or special damages.


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