Are damages limited or capped in medical malpractice cases?

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Question:

Are damages limited or capped in medical malpractice cases?

Answer:

They might be in your case, depending on where you live.  A majority of states have passed some variation of a law that places a limit or “cap” on the amount of money that an injured plaintiff can receive -- even when their medical malpractice case is successful and a jury has found that a health care professional is liable for medical malpractice.

There are a few reasons why laws like these have passed, including the perceived need to balance large (perhaps excessive) jury awards against a doctor’s ability to afford malpractice insurance and provide quality care. Plaintiff’s lawyers would tell you that these caps protect the health care industry’s bottom line at the expense of patients who have suffered legitimate injury at the hands of unqualified doctors.

In any case, state laws that cap medical malpractice damages awards usually only limit non-economic damages like “pain and suffering.” Except in a few states, there is generally no limit on measurable economic damages (such as the cost of past and future medical treatment and compensation for lost income and lost ability to earn a living). For example, in California, there is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. It’s a pretty controversial law, as it was passed in 1975 and contains no provision that would bump the cap up for inflation.

A small handful of states do cap the total amount a medical malpractice plaintiff can receive. For example, Colorado has an overall cap of $1 million, except in rare cases where there is just cause for exceeding the cap.

Check out State-by-State Medical Malpractice Damages Caps for the details.

by: , J.D.

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