Virginia's Damage Cap in Medical Malpractice Cases

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Like dozens of other states, Virginia has a statute that places a limit or "cap" on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case. The controversial impact of these laws is that, even where a plaintiff establishes the defendant's liability for malpractice -- and a jury reaches the same judgment -- there is a limit on the actual amount of damages the plaintiff can be awarded. This limit applies regardless of the plaintiff's specific claimed losses.

Virginia Caps Both Economic and Non-Economic Damages in Malpractice Cases

In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff seeks compensation for the losses they've suffered as a result of the defendant's carelessness. In legal terms, this compensation is called damages. Damages generally fall into one of two categories:

  • economic damages like medical bills or lost wages, and
  • non-economic damages like pain and suffering, or the inability to pursue hobbies and other activities.

Many states put a limit on the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff can receive. Virginia is unusual in that its medical malpractice cap applies to both economic and non-economic damages.

(Va. Code § 8.01-581.15 (2024).)

Yearly Increases to Virginia's Medical Malpractice Damage Cap

The amount of Virginia's medical malpractice damage cap is gradually increasing every year. For example, the cap for recent and upcoming years is:

  • July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023: $2.55 million
  • July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024: $2.60 million
  • July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025: $2.65 million
  • July 1, 2025, through June 30, 2026: $2.70 million
  • July 1, 2026, through June 30, 2027: $2.75 million

Keep in mind that these limits apply based on when the plaintiff is injured--not on when the case is filed or a verdict is reached. So, for example, if you were injured in late 2023 then the $2.55 cap applies to your malpractice case--even if your trial won't begin until late 2024 or even later.

These increases will stop on July 31, 2031, when the limit reaches $3 million.

(Va. Code § 8.01-581.15 (2024).)

Virginia's Separate Limit on Punitive Damages

In addition to economic and non-economic damages, in rare cases a plaintiff may also receive so-called "punitive" damages.

Punitive damages serve a different purpose than other kinds of damages. Economic and non-economic damages compensate the plaintiff for the harm they've suffered. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to punish defendants whose behavior was particularly reckless or malicious (and to deter others from behaving the same way).

Virginia's medical malpractice damage cap applies to all of a plaintiff's damages. So, it indirectly limits punitive damages by limiting them to whatever amount is left over after economic and non-economic damages have been determined.

But Virginia also has a law that applies specifically to punitive damages in personal injury cases (including medical malpractice cases). Under this law, an award of punitive damages can't be more than $350,000. Even if there are multiple defendants, the combined amount of punitive damages can't exceed the $350,000 limit.

(Va. Code § 8.01-38.1 (2024).)

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