Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases

Plaintiffs in malpractice cases can be awarded monetary compensation for injuries. Money can be awarded for economic damages, non-economic damages, or punitive damages.

Damage awards are determined by individual states. The amount of the compensation is determined by the type of damage awarded and relies on the formula used by the state to determine damage awards. Damage awards are subject to “caps” or limits that are decided by individual states.

Average Damage Payouts

A 2015 study by Diederich Healthcare analyzed medical malpractice payouts in the National Practitioner Data Bank for the year before. Total payout amounts for 2014 totaled $3,891,743,050, an increase of 4.4% from the year before. New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were the states with the highest payouts per capita.

33% of damage payments in 2014 were in response to diagnosis error claims, 24% were in response to surgical errors, and 19% were in response to treatment errors.

The study found the following about average payouts in 2014:

Major permanent injury............$ 574,344
Significant permanent injury....$ 426,918
Major permanent injury...........$ 574,344
Death......................................$ 355,231
Minor permanent injury ..........$ 231,377
Minor temporary injury........... $ 198,587
Emotional injury only...............$ 104,892
Insignificant injury ..................$ 33,696

Most payments were made for victims who suffered wrongful death, significant permanent injury, major permanent injury, and injuries resulting in major injuries for the patient that necessitate lifelong care.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are amounts that can be calculated exactly. Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, continued lifetime care, and any other expenses incurred by the victim. Included in this category are wages the victim already lost due to the injury as well as those wages the victim will loose in the future due to the medical injury. Also included in this category are extra expenses from the insurance companies, and modifications necessitated by the injury like handicap-accessible ramps. Victims can also be compensated for replacement services for actions they can no longer do as a result of injury, including grocery delivery services,

Economic damages are determined using "present value," as if all the costs incurred by the injury were to happen immediately. There is no calculation for future fluxes in currency worth.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages like pain and suffering, loss of future earning capacity, and loss of consortium are difficult to determine. There is no bill or fee list that can be used to accurately account for non-economic damages.

Most states use a “multiplier” to determine non-economic damages. Once the economic damages are determined, an economist or insurance adjuster will consider the severity of the injury and the impact it has on the patient's life to come up with an appropriate multiplier, usually between 1.5 and 5. The economic damages are multiplied by the determined multiplier to come up with a sum of non-economic damages.

Insurance adjusters usually do not reveal their formulas, so there is no one specific way to specifically determine a multiplier. Factors that affect the multiplier include:

  • The patient's ability to recover, was it a temporary or permanent injury?
  • The medical expenses associated with the injury
  • The amount of disruptions the injury causes on a daily basis
  • Medication prescribed
  • Physical and emotional distress
  • The extent of the injury, like nerve damage vs. sprain
  • Strength of the witness or medical expert used in the case

Individual stats have different cap limits for non-economic damages. In Maryland, the cap on non-economic damages is $830,000 as of 10/1/2016, and will continue to increase $15,000 every year as set in § 3-2A-09.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the health care professional in question committed an outrageous, malicious, or deliberate act of malpractice. Unlike the other damage awards, punitive damages are not awarded to compensate the victim. They are awarded to punish the health care professional.

Many victims will try to seek punitive damages because it can greatly increase the amount of the award. But these damages are not awarded lightly; they are only awarded when the healthcare professional committed an act that was truly egregious or reckless. Most claims of punitive damages are turned down.

The dollar amount of punitive damages varies greatly across states. Some states set cap limits. Florida and Alaska cap punitive damages at $500,000 or 3 times the amount of economic and non-economic damages, while New Jersey and Virginia cap punitive damages at $350,000 or 5 times the amount of economic and non-economic damages. Many of these states set automatic provisions that necessitate punitive damages for certain acts.

Other states, like Maryland, have no limits on punitive damages but make these damages very difficult to receive. Some states have created an automatic right to punitive damages, others like Maryland have not.

Contributory Negligence

Maryland is one of few states that maintains contributory negligence laws. Contributory negligence means that if a patient is found to be at fault for any portion of the injury, even the smallest amount, then the patient is disqualified from compensation. Recovery of damages is banned for patients who contributed in any way to their injury.

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death cases have their own unique structure and compensation plan. Family members of the victim can sue for "survival action," or compensation to the estate of the victim for the economic and non-economic damages created by the injury. Wrongful death compensation includes the physical and emotional pain and suffering the victim endured before death, medical bills for the injury, and funeral service expenses. Families can also sue for lost wages of the victim if a spouse or child relied on those wages.

Wrongful death claims often have their own unique damage caps. In Maryland, the non-economic damage cap for wrongful death is set at $962,500 for injuries that occurred after 1/1/2016.

Finding a Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury as a result of a doctor's negligence or incompetence, you need to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian understand the difficulties victims and their families face after a serious medical injury. We have a proven track record of success in protecting malpractice victims and winning the compensation they deserve.

Call our offices today at (800) 529-6162 today to speak to an attorney and begin your case.

Let Us Help

If someone you are close to has been seriously injured or worse, you are naturally devastated not only by what has happened, but by the effect that the injury or loss has had on you and your family. At a time when you're vulnerable, traumatized and emotionally exhausted, you need a team that will support you through the often complex process that lies ahead.

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