State damage caps in medical malpractice cases. You deserve professional medical care as a patient with an injury or illness. But too often, these medical professionals can worsen the situation through negligence, leading to misdiagnosis, hospital negligence, or surgical errors.
Medical malpractice can happen in any part of the interaction with patients, from diagnosis to treatment and long-term management of your health. It can worsen your health or even threaten your life. When a medical professional fails to treat you with the care expected of the profession, working with a qualified lawyer may be your best and only choice to get justice and recover your financial expenses and losses.
Medical malpractice lawsuits can get complex, requiring the injured party to prove that treatment was outside the expected standard of care for the medical profession. You will also need to be aware of the damages caps some US states have put on these types of lawsuits, which limit how much you can recover from the legal action even if you win the case. Reach out to a medical malpractice lawyer today.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional or healthcare institution negatively deviates from the established and expected standard of the healthcare professional in caring for a patient in a way that causes them harm. It can happen through either negligence (not taking appropriate or expected action) or omission (a failure to act at all).
As with most negligence lawsuits, lawyers have to prove medical malpractice in three stages:
- The treatment (or lack of treatment) has not been consistent with the expected standard of care, usually proven through statements of other medical professionals.
- The treatment (or lack of treatment) was directly responsible for an injury or death that the patient suffered after it.
- The injury resulting from treatment (or lack of treatment) has resulted in tangible or intangible damages to the patient.
These damages can range widely, from additional medical costs of new treatments to a disability, loss of income during recovery, and pain and suffering. With the help of legal representation, patients who prove the above three factors can sue for recovery of these damages from the medical professional or the institution they represent.
While medical malpractice can be difficult to prove, its consequences can be devastating. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, more than 250,000 patients die due to medical errors in the United States every year, making medical malpractice the third-leading cause of death in the country.
Fortunately, some potential for justice does exist. A 2021 study found that healthcare institutions and insurers must pay out $20 billion in medical malpractice settlements annually across the United States. In Illinois alone, that figure topped $125 million in one recent year.
What Is a Medical Malpractice State Damages Cap?
Annually, harmed patients have received significant payouts. Because of this, some states have limited the damages that a medical provider or their insurance company can pay to a patient even after a court has found them guilty of medical malpractice. These limits are medical malpractice damages caps, and each state’s legal system sets them where appropriate.
Most state laws related to medical malpractice damages caps affect non-economic damages only. They allow complete recovery of economic damages, which are the types of damages that the patient (and their lawyer) can quantify.
- Additional medical expenses, both as an immediate result of the negligence and expected for long-term care in the future.
- Lost wages due to the additional time required away from work as a result of the negligence.
- Loss of potential earning capacity due to long-term consequences from the negligence, like an inability to perform a certain job due to a new disability.
Non-economic damages are more difficult to calculate and are often more subjective based on the involved parties’ best estimates. This might include emotional distress or prolonged suffering as a result of the negligence.
While most states only cap damages on non-economic damages, some limit the total amount a patient can recover, including any damages suffered.
Why Do State Damages Caps for Medical Malpractice Exist?
Limiting a patient’s compensation after a serious injury or illness can be difficult to understand. After all, if the legal system can prove that the medical provider was directly responsible for that injury or illness, they should have to pay in full for the consequences of their actions. Still, state damages caps exist, though they might be controversial.
Officially, as one Samford University study found, the most consistently cited reasons for medical malpractice damages caps are the resulting ability to lower insurance premiums and provide better healthcare.
As these arguments go:
- Insurance companies would charge significantly more liability premiums to healthcare providers if the danger of paying millions in malpractice lawsuits increased. Medical providers would pass these costs onto patients, increasing the cost of healthcare.
- Physicians and other professionals would become more afraid of being charged with medical malpractice and find their job security threatened. The result would be more so-called defensive medicine, ordering unnecessary tests or prescribing unnecessary medication to protect themselves rather than helping the patient.
However, the same Samford University study also found little evidence that damages caps have improved both factors. States like Illinois have found medical malpractice damages caps unconstitutional.
Does Illinois Have a Damages Cap for Medical Malpractice?
The state of Illinois does not currently have a medical malpractice damages cap. Patients who can prove that they have suffered from the negligence of their medical provider can recover as many economic and non-economic damages as the court deems necessary and just.
In 2005, the Illinois state government passed a law that would have capped compensation for the consequences of medical malpractice at $500,000 if a single medical professional was responsible or $1 million if an entire medical facility was responsible. However, the Illinois Supreme Court struck these limits as unconstitutional, lifting any caps on compensation for any medical malpractice.
This ruling has remained in place until today. If you suffer from negligence at the hands of a medical professional or facility, you are entitled to as much financial compensation as you and your legal representation can legally justify. That includes tangible damages like extra medical bills and intangibles like pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and more.
The ruling also means that as a patient, you have the potential to receive full justice if you can prove negligence from your doctor or medical treatment. It might explain why, in 2019, the average medical malpractice paymentfrom medical provider insurance to patients was $750,000.
Which U.S. States Have Medical Malpractice Damages Caps?
Outside of Illinois, 28 US states currently have some form of medical malpractice damages cap in place for patients seeking financial compensation.
These states include:
- Alaska has a cap of $250,000 for non-economic damages, which increases to $400,000 for cases including wrongful death or injuries that result in more than 70 percent disabling.
- California has a cap of $350,000 for all non-economic damages (as of 2023—previously $250,000.)
- Colorado has two caps: $300,00 for non-economic damages and $1,000,000 for total damages claimed in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
- Hawaii has a damages cap of $375,000 for any non-economic damages related to pain and suffering. However, state law makes an exception for cases involving multiple defendants.
- Idaho instituted a $250,000 cap for non-economic damages in 2003 that adjusts annually for inflation. As of 2022, that cap is just above $410,000.
- Indiana has a cap of $1,800,000 for all damages, both economic and non-economic. If the negligence occurred before June 30, 2019, the cap is limited to $1,250,000.
- Iowa caps non-economic damages at $250,000, except in cases of wrongful death or substantial disfigurement and disability.
- Louisiana caps all economic and non-economic damages at $500,000, but patients can also recover future medical expenses above that limit.
- Maine has a $500,000 damages cap that only applies to wrongful death lawsuits.
- Maryland instituted a $650,000 total damages cap in 2005 that would rise by $15,000 each year beginning in 2009. For medical malpractice cases in 2022, the cap was $860,000.
- Massachusetts caps non-economic damages at $500,000, with exceptions for cases resulting in permanent loss of bodily function and other special circumstances.
- Michigan adjusts non-economic damages caps based on inflation, with a base limit of $522,000 for most cases and $887,500 for more extreme cases as of 2022.
- Mississippi caps all non-economic damages at $500,000.
- Missouri caps non-economic damages for catastrophic injuries at $787,671 and $450,098 for other injuries in 2022. The inflation-adjusted amount increases annually.
- Montana caps all non-economic damages at $250,000.
- Nebraska has a full damages cap for economic and non-economic damages of $2,250,000 for any cases after 2014.
- Nevada caps non-economic damages at $350,000 but specifies that every defendant in a case is eligible for damages up to this amount.
- New Mexico has a $600,000 cap on all damages except for past and future medical bills, which can add to the overall compensation above that $600,000 limit.
- North Carolina caps non-economic damages at $500,000 but makes exceptions for extreme cases that result in permanent disfigurement or disability.
- North Dakota had a $500,000 cap for non-economic damages overturned in 2018 but reinstated in 2019. The cap is currently active for all malpractice cases.
- Ohio has a maximum compensation cap of $350,000 per plaintiff or $500,000 for each case with multiple plaintiffs for all non-economic damages, except for wrongful death claims.
- South Carolina caps non-economic damages to $350,000 per provider, with an overall cap of $1,050,000 for all damages in a medical malpractice suit.
- South Dakota has a damages cap of $500,000 for non-economic damages.
- Tennessee limits all damages to $750,000 for cases the court deems non-catastrophic and $1,000,000 for catastrophic cases like loss of limbs or spinal cord injuries leading to paralyzation.
- Texas limits non-economic compensation to $250,000 per healthcare facility and $500,000 for the total lawsuit.
- Utah has a $450,000 damages cap on non-economic compensation but a constitutional provision that prohibits limits on any wrongful death claims.
- Virginia caps total damages at $2,500,000 in 2022, with a $50,000 annual rise that will increase to $3,000,000 by 2031.
- West Virginia has a $250,000 cap for non-economic damages in most cases, which rises to $500,000 for cases the court deems catastrophic.
States without medical malpractice damages caps or in which the state’s supreme court has declared these limits unconstitutional include:
- Washington DC
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Keep in mind, too, that these damages caps can change. Many states listed above either recently put laws to adjust the caps, add exceptions, or react to a major court decision declaring an existing cap unconstitutional.
Getting Legal Help to Recover Damages From Medical Malpractice Suits
Whether you live in a state like Illinois without a damages cap or one of the examples above in which the state puts a cap on the compensation from medical malpractice may, you need reliable legal help.
An experienced lawyer can help you determine whether actions like a misdiagnosis, negligence by the hospital, birth injuries, surgical errors, anesthesia errors, or other types of medical negligence may have caused potentially serious damage. If it has, they can be your partner in getting the compensation you deserve.
Your medical provider’s negligence may have caused increased medical bills and extended recovery times, leading to lost wages. But the emotional trauma, pain, and suffering you may experience are just as important.
The right legal partner can guide you through the legal process, informing you about nuances like damages caps and standing by your side as you navigate the complexities of medical malpractice law. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.