State-by-State Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

An in-depth look at state laws limiting compensation for medical malpractice plaintiffs.

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

Over half of U.S. states have passed some version of a law that limits the amount of money a medical malpractice plaintiff can receive after a successful lawsuit—meaning one in which the jury finds that a health care provider harmed a patient by committing medical negligence. In this article we'll:

  • explain what "damages" are in the context of a medical malpractice case
  • give you an overview of how damages caps often work when it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits, and
  • provide links to state-by-state details on medical malpractice damages caps.

What Are "Damages" in Medical Malpractice Cases?

In the language of the law, "damages" refers to compensable harm suffered by one person, as a result of someone else's wrongdoing. In the context of a medical malpractice claim, an injured patient's damages often include:

  • the cost of additional medical care necessary in the wake of the health care provider's medical error
  • time missed at work, lost wages, and other income-related losses resulting from the malpractice and its effects, and
  • the injured patient's mental and physical "pain and suffering" resulting from the malpractice and its impact on the patient's life.

Learn more about damages in medical malpractice cases.

What Are Damages Caps In Medical Malpractice Cases?

Damages caps are laws that place limits on the amount of compensation an injured person can receive, even when their lawsuit is successful in court.

Most state laws limiting medical malpractice damages place a "cap" on non-economic damages only, which includes compensation for things like "pain and suffering" and the other non-financial, subjective effects of the health care provider's mistake (including loss of enjoyment of life and inability to participate in hobbies and pursue interests).

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). A few state legislatures have passed an umbrella cap on all forms of damages in medical malpractice cases, including compensation for the costs of long-term disability.

There are a few reasons why laws capping medical malpractice damages 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.

Do Medical Malpractice Damages Caps Affect Settlements Too?

Yes. Even if you think your medical malpractice lawsuit will settle out of court, if your state has a damages cap in place, it's very likely to affect how much you might receive. That's because medical malpractice liability insurance companies and lawyers tend to negotiate a settlement based in part on what might happen if a case makes it all the way to trial.

As we've touched on, most medical malpractice damages caps apply to non-economic damages, which:

  • can be tough to put a dollar figure on, and
  • often make up the largest share of an injured patient's compensation.

When there's a cap on how much the injured patient can receive on this side of things, the "worst case" financial scenario may not look so bad to the defendant's side, and they might be more willing to risk a trial rather than come to the negotiating table with a fair settlement offer.

In states without a cap on medical malpractice damages, on the other hand, the unpredictability of what a jury might do—and the wide range of the financial hit that might come—might motivate the defendant's side to make a reasonable settlement offer.

State-By-State Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

To learn more about medical malpractice damages caps where you live, look for your state in the list of links below. If you don't see your state on this list, that means it currently has no statutory cap on damages.

Getting Help With a Medical Malpractice Case

If you're thinking about bringing a medical malpractice claim against a doctor or other health care provider, understanding how your state's laws might limit your compensation is important, but it's just a small part of a complex picture.

There are some kinds of legal claims that you might capably handle on our own, but a medical malpractice lawsuit isn't one of them. Health care providers and their medical malpractice liability insurance companies tend to dig in and fight allegations of medical negligence, and having an experienced legal professional on your side is the only way to even the playing field.

A medical malpractice lawyer (along with their network of medical experts and consultants) will have the skills and the experience to build your best case and fight for a fair result.

Learn more about hiring a medical malpractice lawyer and how it might boost your chance of a successful case.

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