In a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit, the injury victim is trying to get financial compensation to cover their medical expenses and other losses. A request to pay for “damages” can include economic damages and noneconomic damages. It is important to understand the difference between these kinds of damages because there is a cap on noneconomic damages in Maryland.
Economic damages include losses like medical bills, future medical expenses, and loss of income. Noneconomic damages are losses that don’t have an obvious financial value, like disfigurement, pain and suffering, or emotional harm. Together, these damages make up the amount of the jury award in a medical malpractice case.
If you suffered an injury because of medical malpractice and want to know about how much your claim might be worth, talk to experienced trial attorneys about your case. Your medical malpractice law firm can help you understand your options and help you recover money to pay for your losses.
Non-Economic Damages Cap in Maryland Medical Malpractice Cases
Maryland is one of the states that has imposed a limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims. Under Maryland Courts and Judicial Procedures § 3-2A-09, the limitation on noneconomic damages “shall apply in the aggregate to all claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising from the same medical injury, regardless of the number of claims, claimants, plaintiffs, beneficiaries, or defendants.”
The amount of the cap is based on a formula established in 2005. For any claim arising between January 1, 2005, and January 1, 2008, the noneconomic damages may not exceed $650,000. For each subsequent year, the maximum amount for the cap on noneconomic medical malpractice damages increases by $15,000.
For a cause of action arising in 2009, the noneconomic damages could not exceed $665,000. For a cause of action arising in 2021, the damages cap is $845,000. As of January 1, 2022, the cap on non-economic damages is $860,000. In 2023, the cap on non-economic damages will be $875,000. This annual increase will continue unless Maryland changes their damages cap laws.
|Cause of Action Arising||Maximum Noneconomic Damages|
|January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021||$845,000|
|January 1, 2022, to December 31, 2022||$860,000|
|January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023||$875,000|
|January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2024||$890,000|
|January 1, 2025, to December 31, 2025||$905,000|
Does the Jury Know About the Cap on Damages?
It may be shocking to find out the jury is never told about the limit on noneconomic damages when they decide how much to award the injury victim. Under Maryland Courts and Judicial Procedures § 3-2A-09(c), in a jury trial, the jury may not be informed of the limitation on noneconomic damages.
“If the jury awards an amount for noneconomic damages that exceeds the limitation established under [this section], the court shall reduce the amount to conform to the limitation.”
For example, in a birth injury case, a child will suffer permanent injury and require support for the rest of their life. The jury thinks that the value of loss of enjoyment in life, pain, suffering, and loss of support is valued at $2 million dollars. The jury will walk away believing the family will get $2 million in noneconomic damages. However, the judge will instead change the amount of damages to the cap, without the jury’s consent.
In the United States, our legal system puts enough faith in the jury system to let them decide who is guilty of a crime, who has committed medical malpractice, and how much to award in economic damages. However, the healthcare industry’s influence is so great that the courts take away the jury’s ability to make a fair determination about noneconomic damages.
What Is the Difference Between Economic Damages and Noneconomic Damages?
In medical malpractice cases, the damages available are compensatory damages, which are intended to put the injury victim back into the place they would have been without the injury. The primary types of damages for an injury victim in a medical malpractice case include:
- Economic damages
- Non-economic damages
Economic Damages for Medical Malpractice
Economic damages can be easier to understand because there is generally a clear value attached. For example, if you were in a car accident and a negligent driver caused $5,000 in damage to the car, the economic damages would be $5,000 for the damage.
However, economic damages could also include related expenses, like the costs of a rental car if the driver had to get around because the car was being repaired. Or if the driver missed a couple of days of work because of the accident, economic damages would include the loss of income for those days.
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, economic damages can include past losses, continuing losses, and future expenses. For example, in a permanent malpractice injury, the injury victim may require additional care for the rest of their life. Economic damages could include:
- Medical bills
- Medical equipment
- Future medical care
- Loss of wages
- Future loss of earning potential
- In-home care
- Mobility and care modifications for the home and car
When a jury is deciding how much to award in economic damages, they can add up all the costs and losses associated with the medical injury. For future damages, the estimated damages may depend on if you will make a full recovery or if you will never get back to your condition before the accident. Future damages can include future healthcare expenses and the loss of income you will never receive because of your injury.
For estimating future medical care, a medical expert can estimate the type of care that will be required for the rest of the patient’s life if they never fully recover. Income estimate can depend on the training and experience the injury victim had before the injury. A life care plan will also take into account life expectancy.
Noneconomic Damages for Medical Malpractice
Noneconomic damages don’t always have a clear dollar value. What is the value you place on pain and suffering? For example, if a former marathon runner loses their legs, they may never be able to run again, something that brought them joy and personal fulfillment. A young person who was planning on becoming a pilot loses an eye and they will never be able to have their dream job.
Noneconomic damages can be understood by the jury but the hard part is putting a value on these types of damages. Types of noneconomic damages can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Loss of quality of life
- Mental distress
- Loss of companionship
In some medical malpractice cases, the jury can hear from a forensic economist or other experts to provide information about estimating noneconomic damages and future damages. Experts can provide a range of estimates, based on the type of injury, life expectancy, and other factors.
Estimating Noneconomic Damages for Medical Malpractice
There are several methods of estimating noneconomic damages based on tables, scenarios, or multipliers. One of the simplest ways is the multiplier method. With a multiplier, the severity of the injury can be estimated from 1 to 5, with 5 being for the most severe or tragic injuries, such as a serious birth injury. The medical costs of past and future care is then multiplied by the severity factor.
For example, in a serious birth injury case, the estimated total cost of medical care will be $1.5 million. The medical malpractice attorney may argue that because of the severity of the injury, the child should be compensated for noneconomic damages of 5 times the medical costs, or $7.5 million. Alternatively, the insurance representatives would try and lower that number to 1x or 2x, for a maximum of $3 million in noneconomic damages. It would be up to the jury to decide how serious the injury was and the amount of noneconomic damages.
There are several factors that can be used to estimate the multiplier for noneconomic damages. Factors that may be used to increase the multiplier include:
- Level of wrongdoing
- Long recovery period
- Disfigurement or scarring
- Permanent disability
- Loss of a limb
- Loss of ability to do activities the victim previously enjoyed
- Degenerative or recurring complications
Another approach to estimate noneconomic damages is a non-binding age adjusted multiplier. (NBAAM). This approach assumes that a young person who suffers a serious injury should be compensated more than an older person because they will have to live with their injuries and disabilities for much longer.
Do All States Have a Medical Malpractice Damage Cap?
No, not all states have a cap on non-economic damages. Almost half of states have no medical malpractice damage cap for noneconomic losses. Some states have not passed a law that limits the damages. Other states have found caps to be unconstitutional under their state laws. Unfortunately, the amount of money you can get in a medical malpractice case can depend on the state where your injury occurred.
For example, Illinois passed a law that limited noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that arbitrary caps on noneconomic damages are unconstitutional. However, multiple times since the legislation has tried to implement new caps on noneconomic damages and the Illinois Supreme Court continues to declare the arbitrary caps unconstitutional.
Is There a Cap on Medical Malpractice Settlements?
One of the benefits of accepting a settlement is that a settlement offer is not limited by the state damages cap on noneconomic damages. Most medical malpractice cases are settled before they get to trial. In many cases, a malpractice lawsuit is settled shortly before trial. At the time of going to trial, both sides may have an interest in settling the case.
A trial can be long and expensive and settling before the trial can put less stress on the injury victim. Juries can also be unpredictable. The benefit of a settlement is that all parties understand how much money will be involved, without leaving it up to the jury’s decision.
However, when an insurance company is doing its calculations for how much to offer in a settlement, it may take into account the cap on noneconomic damages. The insurance company is trying to figure out their possible liability in how much they will have to pay. Their estimates may include the maximum noneconomic damages amount, which would be the Maryland cap for a malpractice lawsuit in Baltimore, Annapolis, Columbia, or Germantown.
Noneconomic Damages in a Birth Injury Case
Noneconomic damages in a birth injury case can be an important part of the settlement or jury award. Birth injury cases are unique because the child has their entire life ahead of them. It may be much harder to account for the amount of pain and suffering for a child who will live with their injuries for another 60 years or more. Like other malpractice injury cases, noneconomic damages can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of a limb
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Family loss of companionship or support
Pain and Suffering in Birth Injury Cases
Severe birth injuries can leave a child suffering permanent damage. The damage can cause permanent brain damage and physical disabilities. Birth injuries can leave a child suffering:
- Cerebral palsy
- Spinal cord damage
These physical injuries can prevent a child from participating in normal activities that most children get to enjoy. Brain damage from a birth injury accident can leave a child with permanent cognitive impairments, including:
- Memory loss
- Judgment problems
- Difficulty learning new information
- Impulse control issues
- Language difficulty
- Changes in mood or personality
- Depression or anxiety
- Dementia-like symptoms
How Can I Recover Full Damages After a Medical Injury?
It is important that all of your losses are taken into account after a medical injury. Do not accept the insurance company’s settlement offer without understanding the full extent of your injuries. If you will continue to suffer after the accident, caused by stress, anxiety, or chronic pain, make sure you consider those damages.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney will help evaluate your claim, explain your options, and fight to get you the maximum compensation available for your injuries. A medical malpractice lawsuit can help you recover money for medical bills, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If you want to find out about your case, contact an experienced legal defense team for a case evaluation. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.