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Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages by State

Some states limit damages for the injury victim in a medical malpractice case. Other states place no limit on damages and leave it up to the jury to decide the amount of compensation. In some states, the courts have even found caps on damages to be unconstitutional.

Medical Malpractice Damage Caps by State

States with Medical Malpractice Caps (28)States with No Medical Malpractice Cap (14)States Where Caps are Unconstitutional (9)

Why are Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim Limited?

Why do some states limit the amount of damages after an injury victim has suffered a serious injury? The main reason there is a limit on damages is because of the lobbying efforts of the insurance industry and healthcare industry. The insurance company is in the business of making money. If the medical malpractice insurance companies can limit their own liability, they can make bigger profits. When these industries contribute millions of dollars to politicians, those politicians end up supporting legislation to limit malpractice claims. 

The healthcare companies, hospitals, and insurance companies claim that malpractice claims increase the costs of healthcare. However, there is no clear evidence that caps do anything to increase the safety of medical care. When Wisconsin found the caps unconstitutional, the courts found insufficient evidence that caps had lowered cost or improved care. The only ones who seem to be profiting from damages caps are medical industries and insurance companies. 

These caps come at the cost to injury victims who suffered devastating losses through no fault of their own. States like Texas and California have a maximum limit of $250,000 for pain and suffering. This means that a child who is injured in a malpractice claim may have to suffer for more than 50 years because of a doctor’s negligence and only be compensated $250,000 for their pain and loss of enjoyment in life. 

States with a Cap on Medical Malpractice Cases

StateCap in Medical Malpractice Cases
Alaska$250,000 non-economic damages cap. Increased noneconomic damages cap of $400,000 in cases of wrongful death or severe and permanent injuries (more than 70% disabling). 
California$250,000 non-economic damages cap.
Colorado$300,000 non-economic damages cap.
Hawaii$375,000 pain and suffering cap.
Idaho$250,000 non-economic damages cap (adjusted annually for inflation). Effective July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, the cap was $386,622.39. 
IndianaTotal amount recoverable (economic and noneconomic damages) for any injury or death of a patient may not exceed $1,800,000 for an act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 2019. 
Iowa$250,000 non-economic damages cap.
Louisiana$500,000 total amount recoverable (economic and noneconomic damages), plus future medical expenses. 
Massachusetts$500,000 non-economic damages cap (unless the jury determines that there is a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function or substantial disfigurement, or other special circumstances where such a limitation would deprive the plaintiff of just compensation for the injuries sustained).
Maryland$650,000, adjusted for inflation. For claims arising between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, the cap will be $890,000. For claims arising between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022, the cap will be $905,000. For claims arising between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2023, the cap will be $920,000. 
Mississippi$500,000 non-economic damages cap.
Missouri$400,000 non-economic damages cap for non-catastrophic injuries (adjusted for inflation). In 2021, the cap is $442,574. $700,000 non-economic damages cap for catastrophic injuries (adjusted for inflation). In 2021, the cap is $774,504. 
Montana$250,000 non-economic damages cap.
Nebraska$2,250,000 total amount recoverable (economic and noneconomic damages).
Nevada$350,000 non-economic damages cap per defendant.
New Mexico$600,000 total amount recoverable (economic and noneconomic damages), plus medical expenses. 
North Carolina$500,000 non-economic damages cap (adjusted annually for inflation). As of January 1, 2020, the cap on non-economic damages is $562,338.
North Dakota$500,000 non-economic damages cap.
Ohio$250,000 non-economic damages cap, or three times the economic loss, whichever is greater, but not to exceed $350,000.
South Carolina$350,000 non-economic damages cap per defendant.
South Dakota$500,000 non-economic damages cap.
Tennessee$750,000 non-economic damages cap for non-catastrophic injuries.  $1,000,000 non-economic damages cap for catastrophic injuries.
Texas$250,000 non-economic damages cap per defendant, up to a maximum of $500,000.
Utah$450,000 non-economic damages cap.
Virginia$1,500,000 total amount recoverable (economic and noneconomic damages), adjusted for inflation. From July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021: $2.45 million. From July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022: $2.50 million. From July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023: $2.55 million. 
West Virginia$250,000 non-economic damages cap for non-catastrophic injuries.  $500,000 non-economic damages cap for catastrophic injuries.
Wisconsin$750,000 non-economic damages cap.

Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim

After an accident or medical malpractice injury, the injury victim and their family suffer losses. These losses can be financial, physical, and emotional. When someone else is responsible for causing the injury, the negligent party should have to pay for the losses. These losses are called “damages” in a personal injury or malpractice lawsuit. 

Damages are supposed to compensate the injury victim by putting them into a similar place they would have been if the accident had never occurred. It may be impossible to make someone whole again, especially after a serious injury. If the injury victim lost a leg, no amount of money can replace the loss of their limb, emotional harm, or the fact that the victim will not be able to get around like they could before. Money damages can include consideration for these emotional losses and changes in lifestyle. 

Damages in a malpractice claim are generally categorized as: 

  • Economic damages
  • Non-economic damages
  • Punitive damages

Economic Damages

Economic damages are for the financial losses associated with an injury. This can include money spent to pay for medical expenses, loss of income, and reduced earning potential.  Economic damages generally include: 

  • Medical bills, 
  • Loss of wages, 
  • Loss of earning potential, and
  • Future medical care. 

Most states do not limit economic damages in a medical malpractice claim. However, some states have an overall cap that limits the total amount of economic AND noneconomic damages. 

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages include losses that may not have a clear dollar amount. Non-economic losses may involve physical and emotional pain, change in quality of life, and complications suffered because of the accident. Non-economic damages may include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of a limb or body part
  • Paralysis
  • Disfigurement and scarring
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Family loss of companionship or support

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are not as common in medical malpractice cases. Punitive damages are generally limited to cases where the defendant acted intentionally or willfully caused an injury. Most medical malpractice cases involve negligence, mistakes, or errors instead of intentional conduct. 

Calculating the Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case

When deciding how much to award in damages, the jury looks at all the losses suffered by the injury victim and the victim’s family. Noneconomic losses include pain and suffering. How do you determine what kind of pain and suffering the patient suffers after a medical mistake? If the victim is a child, the negligent care could cause life-long suffering. 

Physical injuries can prevent the patient from returning to the normal activities in life, including working, recreation, and caring for their family. Some injuries, like brain injuries or spinal cord injuries can lead to paralysis or loss of body function. 

Brain injuries and developmental disabilities can limit the opportunities for life, and may require lifelong care. Medical injuries may also carry emotional pain and cause mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Loss of consortium is another type of non-economic injury. This includes loss of companionship, affection, marital assistance, or impairment of sexual relations between spouses. Filial consortium damages may also compensate a parent for the loss of affection, companionship, and damage to the relationship caused by a child’s injury or death. 

Maryland – Cap on Non-Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

Maryland has a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Under Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-2A-05, “an award or verdict under this subtitle for noneconomic damages for a cause of action arising between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2008, inclusive, may not exceed $650,000.” 

Since 2009, the cap on noneconomic damages has been adjusted annually for inflation. The limitation increases by $15,000 each year, beginning January 1, 2009. Unless Maryland changes the law on non-economic damages, the cap will increase by $15,000 each year. As of January 1st of each year, the caps will be as follows:

  • January 1, 2020-December 31, 2020: $875,000
  • January 1, 2021-December 31, 2021: $890,000
  • January 1, 2022-December 31, 2022: $905,000
  • January 1, 2023-December 31, 2023: $920,000
  • January 1, 2024-December 31, 2024: $935,000
  • January 1, 2025-December 31, 2025: $950,000

Pennsylvania – No Cap on Non-Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

There is no statutory cap on non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania. Under Article III, Section 18 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, “in no [other than workers’ compensation] cases shall the General Assembly limit the amount to be recovered for injuries resulting in death, or for injuries to persons or property.”

Caps or limits to recovery for pain and suffering and other non-monetary detriment are prohibited by Pennsylvania’s Constitution. It is up to juries to decide how much to award the injury victim after suffering a birth injury or medical malpractice error. However, there are limits to damages that apply to claims against the state government or local government. 

Washington, D.C. – No Cap on Non-Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

Like Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. does not have a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. There is no set cap to the amount of damages an injury victim can claim in a medical malpractice or birth injury case in Washington D.C. The jury in a medical malpractice case can determine how much to compensate the victim in a medical error claim. This is especially important for people who have suffered permanent injuries, birth injuries, brain injuries, or paralysis.

Juries Deciding Fair Damages

There is no need to put an artificial cap on how much the injury victim can receive. Juries already do a good job of deciding how to compensate a patient who suffers because of a doctor’s negligence. A jury is made up of people from your community who understand what it is like to face expensive medical bills, be unable to work, and suffer chronic pain.

Unfortunately, when a state has medical malpractice caps, the jury may not know. Juries may not know about the limit on noneconomic damages. If a jury thinks a birth injury victim should be awarded $1 million in pain and suffering, the award may later be reduced to the amount of the cap, without the jury ever being aware. 

The healthcare industry often points to what sounds like very high awards in personal injury or medical malpractice cases. Those seemingly high amounts are not common and are often reduced by the courts. There may also be extenuating circumstances behind the numbers that the public does not know about. 

For example, in the famous McDonald’s coffee burn injury case, the jury awarded the victim $3 million. However, there is a lot people don’t know about that case. First, the woman who was burned by the coffee suffered 3rd-degree burns across her legs and groin. She required skin grafts and suffered severe pain. Second, the injury victim only asked for $20,000 to settle the case but McDonald’s never offered more than $800, which would not cover her losses. Finally, in the end, the judge reduced the amount of punitive damages to $480,000. 

How Much is Your Medical Malpractice Case Worth?

If you have questions about how you can recover full damages for your medical injury, including pain and suffering, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. At Gilman & Bedigian, our aggressive birth injury lawyers have helped our clients and their families recover millions of dollars in compensation caused by medical negligence. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.

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