Does North Carolina limit damages in a medical malpractice case?

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law


Does North Carolina limit damages in a medical malpractice case?


Yes. Like a lot of states, North Carolina places a limit or "cap" on the amount of compensation that is available to a plaintiff who has been successful in a medical malpractice lawsuit. In other words, let's say the jury finds the defendant liable for malpractice, and awards the plaintiff a certain amount of compensation (called "damages" in the language of the law). At that point (fair or not) this law kicks in to limit the actual amount that the plaintiff can receive.

North Carolina lawmakers have placed a cap only on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Non-economic damages include compensation for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and the loss of enjoyment of life that result from the defendant's medical malpractice. Non-economic damages are often described as more "subjective" because they tend to vary from plaintiff to plaintiff North Carolina's cap 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, 2020) set the cap at $562,338.

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

One important exception to North Carolina's medical malpractice damages cap: The law will not apply at all in cases where the injured patient suffered certain kinds of disfiguring or permanent injury AND the defendant's malpractice arose from recklessness, malice, an intentional act, or gross negligence. Where those criteria are met in a medical malpractice case, all damages are uncapped.

It's important to remember that compensation for losses like past and future medical bills, lost income, lost earning capacity, and other economic damages are not subject to any sort of cap in a North Carolina medical malpractice case.

One final note on damages in North Carolina: If the plaintiff is asking for more than $150,000 in overall damages (economic and non-economic), a medical malpractice lawsuit trial might be separated into two parts: one in which the health care provider's liability is determined, and another in which the proper financial remedy for the injured patient is decided.

Learn more about medical malpractice damages.

by: , J.D.

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