Are damages limited or capped in medical malpractice cases?
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: David Goguen, J.D.