If you are considering bringing a medical malpractice claim, you probably want to know what your case is worth. There are several potential types of damages, some of which are focused on compensating the victim and others of which are focused on punishing the defendant. Other types of damages are available to family members when medical malpractice causes the tragic death of a patient. Many states have imposed limits on the damages that plaintiffs can recover in medical malpractice claims, however, and you may want to consult your state’s laws to find out how a cap may affect your case.
To establish a defendant’s liability for damages, you will need to show that they failed to meet the appropriate standard of care for a similarly situated medical professional. You also must prove that your injuries resulted from the defendant’s error, rather than a pre-existing condition or an external cause.
The purpose of compensatory damages is to reimburse the injured patient for the harm that they suffered because of the malpractice. These damages come in two forms: economic (or special) damages and non-economic (or general) damages. Economic damages cover items that have a clearly defined cost, such as medical bills and lost wages. They can also cover the costs of future medical treatment, although this may require expert testimony to explain.
Non-economic damages involve the subjective harm that the patient endured. These can cover pain and suffering and their reduced quality of life. Different juries may return drastically different awards for these damages, which will be based on testimony by the patient and others in their life. Non-economic damages also can cover lost earning capacity, which may involve hiring an expert to discuss the lasting impact of the patient’s injuries.
These are relatively rare in medical malpractice cases, but punitive damages are designed to punish a doctor or another medical professional for egregious misconduct. You may need to show malicious intent by the defendant to recover these damages. An example might be a situation in which a doctor sexually assaults a patient while they are under anesthesia. Punitive damages are not related to the actual harm that the patient suffered. They can be much greater than compensatory damages, although there are constitutional limits on them.
Damages for Death Caused by Medical Malpractice
Claims based on a death caused by medical malpractice can result in either or both of two types of damages. First, damages under survival statutes are based on the harm that the patient suffered between the malpractice and their death. This type of claim can be brought either by the estate of the patient or, in some cases, by their family members. Damages in survival actions essentially mirror damages in medical malpractice cases brought by a living patient, except for future damages.
Meanwhile, damages under wrongful death statutes are meant to compensate family members for the loss of their relationship with the victim. These can vary from state to state, but some common examples include loss of support, consortium, companionship, and guidance. Specific procedural rules determine which family members can bring a wrongful death claim. These typically include the patient’s spouse and children, but parents and siblings may or may not be eligible.
In an effort to limit the exposure of doctors, the majority of states have imposed caps (or limits) on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a medical malpractice claim. These caps can take many forms. They may cover the total damages or only a specific type of damages, which is most often non-economic damages. Some caps are tied into the amount that the patient has received from insurance to compensate them for their injuries. There also may be limits on how much an attorney can charge to bring a malpractice case, which can discourage plaintiff’s attorneys from bringing claims.