Medical Malpractice Law
An injured plaintiff is entitled to recover money damages to compensate him or her for all of the harm caused by the defendant`s negligence. The law recognizes three major categories of damages in injury cases. These include economic damages, noneconomic damages, and physical impairment and disfigurement. For medical malpractice, damages are limited to $1,000,000 with no more than $250,000 attributed to noneconomic damages. The court may award in excess of these amounts in certain circumstances.
Economic damages include the costs of reasonable and necessary medical care, property damage, car rental expenses, costs of domestic services, and loss of earnings. The law allows compensation for future medical and care expenses that the claimant can prove will be reasonably necessary to treat the injury caused by the malpractice. The claim may include income the claimant can prove will probably be lost in the future because of the injuries. Loss of earning capacity is also allowed when the patient proves he or she is less able to earn a living as a result of the injuries caused by the malpractice.
Noneconomic damages include losses for pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of the quality of life. There is no definite standard of calculating reasonable compensation for these types of damages other than being just and reasonable in light of the evidence.
Physical impairment and disfigurement damages are similar to noneconomic damages, but they are calculated separately because of the limitations on recovery for noneconomic damages. Those damage caps do not apply to compensation for physical impairment and disfigurement.
In certain instances, damages may be awarded to families of injured claimants for loss of care, companionship, love and affection. Family members can be compensated for the wrongful death of a loved one. These damages may include medical and burial expenses, loss of income that would have supported the family members, emotional suffering, and loss of the pleasures of the family relationship.
Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and are only awarded in rare cases. A plaintiff must prove fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct before a jury may award punitive damages. Willful and wanton conduct means conduct purposefully committed which the defendant must have realized as dangerous, done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others. The amount of such damages will not exceed an amount equal to the amount of the actual damages awarded to the injured party except under certain circumstances where the court can increase the amount up to three times the amount of the actual damages.
In addition to the damages outlined above, the court must award interest on the amount of damages; beginning on the date the plaintiff was injured. Prejudgment interest is counted towards the $1,000,000 limit on damages. Where future damage awards exceed $150,000, the court must provide for the periodic payment of those damages.
Judgments against public entities or their employees are subject to damage limitations. The maximum amount that may be recovered from a public entity or its employee in any single occurrence is $150,000 per claimant and $600,000 per occurrence.