Does North Carolina Cap Medical Malpractice Damages?

Even when an injured patient's medical malpractice lawsuit is successful in North Carolina, there's a limit on how much compensation they can receive.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 5/08/2024

Like a lot of states, North Carolina places a limit or "cap" on the amount of compensation a patient can receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit. North Carolina's cap only applies to "non-economic" losses like "pain and suffering." We'll cover what that means—and discuss the current state of the cap—in this article.

How Do Medical Malpractice Damages Caps Work?

In the language of the law, "damages" often just means the type or amount of compensation someone can receive in a lawsuit. In the context of a medical malpractice case, damages caps place a limit on how much compensation an injured patient can receive even if their lawsuit is successful.

Let's say the jury finds that a doctor's error amounted to malpractice, and that the plaintiff (the patient) is entitled to compensation for the harm caused by the malpractice. At that point (fair or not) this cap would kick in to limit the actual amount that the plaintiff can receive.

Even when a case doesn't make it to trial, medical malpractice liability insurance companies and lawyers will have any damages cap in mind when negotiating a settlement, so these laws tend to have a big impact on an injured patient's prospects for getting compensation after a health care provider's mistake.

North Carolina Caps Non-Economic Damages In Medical Malpractice Cases

North Carolina lawmakers have placed a cap only on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Non-economic damages (also called general damages) cover a wide variety of losses, including compensation for the injured patient's:

  • physical and mental pain and suffering
  • emotional distress, and
  • loss of enjoyment of life.

Non-economic damages are often described as more subjective because they tend to vary from plaintiff to plaintiff, and they're not always easy to capture with a dollar figure.

North Carolina's cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases was originally set at $500,000, but beginning in 2014, the cap was slated for inflation-related adjustment every third year. The most recent adjustment by the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management (effective January 1, 2023) set the cap at $656,730.

You can see the full text of this law at N.C. General Statutes section 90-21.19.

When North Carolina's Medical Malpractice Damages Cap Won't Apply

North Carolina's medical malpractice damages cap won't apply at all in cases where:

  • the injured patient suffered certain kinds of disfiguring or permanent injury, and
  • the health care provider's malpractice involved recklessness, malice, an intentional act, or gross negligence.

Where those criteria are met in a medical malpractice case, all damages are uncapped in North Carolina.

There's No Cap on Economic Losses In North Carolina Medical Malpractice Cases

It's important to remember that the cap we've discussed here only applies to an injured patient's non-economic losses. There's no limit on economic damages in a North Carolina medical malpractice lawsuit. That includes categories of compensation like:

  • past and future medical care made necessary by the malpractice
  • lost income
  • lost earning capacity, and
  • any other out-of-pocket losses or financial harm caused by the malpractice.

Learn more about damages in a medical malpractice case.

Getting Help With a North Carolina Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

If you're thinking about suing a doctor or other health care provider for medical malpractice in North Carolina, understanding how the state's damages cap might affect your case is just a small part of a big and complex picture. Having an experienced legal professional in your side is crucial if you want to come away with a fair result. Learn more about how hiring a medical malpractice lawyer can boost your chance of a successful case.

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