When we seek the care of a medical professional, we are putting our trust, our faith, and our lives in the hands of another person. There are few things as traumatic and life-changing as trusting your health to someone and getting worse instead of better due to something the doctor either did or failed to do.
Understanding Medical Malpractice
There are a very rigid set of standards put in place for every specialty in the medical profession. These standards help to ensure patients receive proper, quality care, with the chance of any injury, illness, or adverse reaction minimized. These standards form the basis of the trust we place in our doctors, nurses, and dentists.
When the caregiver violates this trust, the consequences can be devastating.
Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional causes harm as a result of deviating from medical standards. While we may hope this is uncommon, there are a large number of medical malpractice cases filed in the United States each year.
The payments awarded for malpractice suits in the United States tend to be much higher than anywhere else in the world.
This statistic holds true even though many states in America have created a damage cap for malpractice cases, limiting the size of the award that can be sought and paid out.
Damages Awarded for Medical Malpractice
If a court finds that a medical professional or organization has been involved in medical malpractice, the wronged party can be awarded two types of damages under United States Law:
- Economic Damages: Economic damages are awarded for losses as the result of medical malpractice damage. These can include lost earnings, loss of potential earnings in the future, medical care expenses, and expenses related to maintaining the quality of life as a result of required medical care.
- Non-Economic Damages: Non-Economic Damages are more complicated, less easily assessed, and are often the source of negotiation and debate in a medical malpractice case. These damages are not directly related to income but are instead related to the injury that was sustained, and the level of disruption and distress it caused to the injured party, and those around them.
No Damage Caps on Economic Damages
The economic damages related to an injury caused by medical malpractice do not have a damage cap in California, or in most jurisdictions throughout the United States. These damages are often very straightforward and are easily calculated based on income, potential future income, medical expenses, and other costs related to the injury.
Non-Economic Damages, or “Pain and Suffering” Damages
When someone suffers a terrible injury as a result of medical malpractice, lost earnings and new expenses are not the only things to consider in terms of damage. The pain, suffering, loss of life quality, emotional suffering, and impact on family and friends are all considered non-economic damages.
In a medical malpractice case where the court finds the healthcare worker or organization at fault, these types of monetary damages are often awarded – recognizing that this type of injury can be devastating and that someone should be held accountable for the negligence.
Medical Malpractice Damage Caps
The pain and suffering that results from a medical malpractice incident can be enormous. After being injured, many people face issues that impact them for the rest of their lives. They may be unable to function in the same way they did before and may need constant care.
However, non-economic damages are less straightforward than economic damages, simply because it is difficult to quantify pain, loss, and suffering. Because these are subjective measures, the awards given for injuries may vary wildly.
Recognizing this, California, and many other states in America, have placed caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits.
California has set a damage cap on the non-economic damages from medical malpractice suits at $250,000.This cap has been in effect since 1975 but has no impact whatsoever on the level of economic damages that can be awarded to a patient.
Many critics of the California Statute point out there has been no adjustment for inflation since the cap came into effect in 1975.
Although the injuries sustained through medical malpractice may be particularly grievous, the level of compensation will remain the same.
Medical Malpractice damage caps are a reality of law, affecting monetary awards in a medical malpractice case. It is important that attorneys advise both their client (if the attorney is a plaintiff’s attorney) and the physician if the attorney represents the defense. Remember that although California has a relatively low non-economic damages cap on medical malpractice settlements, injured parties are still eligible to be compensated up to $250,000, plus economic damages.