When a patient suffers an injury as a result of a medical professional's negligence, the patient may be eligible for compensation for the injury. In medical malpractice, “damages” is the term used for monetary compensation for medical injuries.
There are several different types of damages that can be awarded to victims of malpractice; plaintiffs can receive damage payments for economic damages like the cost of extra medical care, noneconomic damages like pain and suffering, and for punitive damages or damages that are meant to punish the health care professional when the injury was the result of a particularly reprehensible act of negligence.
Medical studies have found that every year up to 440,000 patients suffer fatal injuries in hospitals. That makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease.
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient suffers an injury as a result of negligent or incompetent care by a healthcare professional. But not all injuries are the result of malpractice. Doctors are required to meet certain standards, follow certain guidelines, and to maintain certain ethical principals. When doctors breach these standards, and when that breach results in a serious injury, the doctor might have a medical malpractice case on their hands. Many good cases go undiscovered because the patient or patient's family fails to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer.
Medical Malpractice and Economic Damages
To qualify for monetary compensation for an injury a patient must be able to prove that,
- A physician-patient relationship existed; and
- The healthcare professional breached the standard of care; and
- The patient was injured; and
- The patient's injury was a direct result of the healthcare professionals' error.
All four conditions must be true for the patient to be awarded compensation.
Types of Medical Malpractice Damages
Damages attempt to repay the patient for losses due to the injury. There are two main types of damages in medical malpractice cases, those that can be quantified with an exact number and those that cannot.
The three types of damages are calculated in different ways, and compensation is awarded in different amounts for each type of damage. Damage calculations and caps are created at the state level
Economic Damages In Medical Malpractice Cases
Economic damages are quantifiable damages that can be precisely calculated. These damages are sometimes referred to as “special damages”. A medical expert may be used in court to determine the appropriate amount of damages. Economic damages include:
An injured patient is entitled to compensation for the cost of medical care that is related to the injury. Medical expenses include hospital bills, in-home care, ambulance fees, and medical accessories like crutches. These expenses can also include future extended or lifelong care the patient may need as a result of the injury. For example, birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy can cost the family millions of dollars in medical expenses that negligent doctors may be required to pay.
When patients suffer a serious injury they may grapple with severe disabilities or extended hospital stays. If the injury prevents the patient from working, the patient can sue the health care professional for the cost of lost wages. Judges and juries will consider factors like the patient's occupation, age, and experience and skill levels in awarding lost wages. Compensation for lost wages can also include a lost future earning capacity if the patient's career is irreversibly damaged.
Non-economic Damages In Medical Malpractice Cases
Non-economic damages, or general damages, are damages awarded for a diminished quality of life. There is no exact monetary amount that can pay for something like the emotional distress that comes with suffering a lifelong disability. Non-economic damages include payments for:
Pain and suffering
Pain and suffering refer to the physical and emotional distress the patient experiences as a result of a negligent injury. There is no quantifiable number that can be attached to this suffering, so states usually use a "multiplier" on the economic damages to calculate the monetary cost of emotional and physical distress.
Ex: 2 (multiplier) x $200,000 (economic damages)
Loss of companionship or consortium
This claim is usually used by family members of a patient who suffered a fatal injury. Loss of companionship refers to the emotional loss of the patient in the person's life. A child or spouse could file a claim for loss of companionship. Loss of consortium is reserved specifically for spouses or significant others of the victim and refers to a loss of the affection of the victim, including sexual activity.
Loss of enjoyment of life
A patient who suffered a serious injury may face lifelong damage and the resulting emotional pain that comes with it. The loss of enjoyment of life includes the everyday difficulties the patient might face, like the loss of mobility, chronic pain, or the emotional distress of a visible injury.
Punitive damages are rare; they are awarded specifically to punish health care professionals for a particularly egregious mistake. In these cases, the health care professional deliberately broke the standard of care. This can include being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs while treating a patient, committing sexual misconduct on a patient, or purposefully lying to the patient or withholding important information.
Calculating Damages In Maryland Malpractice Cases
Damages are awarded to fit the injury. Each state has a unique way of calculating damages and every state sets a different caps for the damages. Most all states award unlimited economic damages but have a cap limit on non-economic damages.
To learn more about damage awards, see our section on Calculating Damages and Damage Caps.
Getting Help From A Baltimore Maryland Malpractice Attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered monetary or emotional difficulties as a result of a serious injury by a negligent health care professional, you need to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian understand the struggles that victims of malpractice face. Call our office today for a free consultation and to learn more about your rights.