ARE THERE CAPS/LIMITS ON MEDICAL MALPRACTICE DAMAGES?
Attorney Joseph Taraska discusses the question of whether there are caps/limits on damages in medical malpractice cases. Joseph Taraska has over 40 years of experience litigating complex cases including Health Law, Medical Malpractice and Products Liability.
Although his primary office is in Florida Attorney Taraska evaluates cases nationally. In this article, Mr. Joseph Taraska discusses the complex question of whether there are caps or limits on damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases.
To start, Attorney Taraska breaks down the type of available damages. These are generally as follows:
These are awarded to compensate an individual for the dollar loss. They include such items as past and future lost wages, lost pensions, medical expenses, rehabilitation expenses, funeral expenses, the loss value of services that can no longer be provided by the injured person, the loss of support the injured person was providing a spouse or dependent and the loss of net accumulations or the money that could have been saved.
These are awarded for such things as pain and suffering, mental anguish and the loss of enjoyment of life.
Rather than compensate for a loss, these damages are generally awarded to deter the individual from certain conduct in the future and are often thought of as sending a message to the public at large. Where Economic and non-economic damages are generally awarded when there has been an injury caused by the failure to use reasonable care-negligence, punitive damages require that the acts be of a much more serious nature. For example, depending on the state the misconduct required is generally either intentional, reckless, or so gross as to be considered wanton.
Joseph Taraska notes that the question of whether there are limits on recovery depends on the state in which the negligent act and injury occurred. Each state has the right, as long as its legislation does not violate Federal mandates, to pass its own laws on the subject. In addition, in most instances where such limits exist they apply to non-economic and punitive damages while in most circumstances economic damages are awarded to the extent they were incurred.
For example, in Florida the legislature passed various restrictions on non-economic damages. However, these were struck down by the state Supreme Court as violating the citizens’ guarantee of equal protection under the Florida state constitution. In California limits do apply but are allowed to increase periodically depending on economic conditions. In Washington State there are no limits.
As noted, Attorney Joseph Taraska points out that these limits are state dependent. However, to give a general idea of how they may be applied he looks at Florida law. In Florida the legislature passed limits on non-economic damages which as discussed above were struck down by the State Supreme Court. Economic damages were allowed to the extent they were incurred or would likely be incurred in the future. While in existence the law provided for different levels of compensation depending on the injury sustained. The Courts found that this discriminated unfairly with regard to certain injured persons and as it treated them differently denied them equal protection of the law. However, there does remain several categories of limits on the books. For example if a patient was a Medicaid recipient at the time of the care his non-economic damages are restricted. As Mr. Taraska states, this seems to also be a denial of Equal Protection and one could surmise that the courts will eventually strike it down. In addition, there are procedures in Florida for a defendant in a malpractice case to admit liability and ask that the damages be submitted to an arbitration panel. This also has the effect of limiting certain damages as the injured person no longer has to prove that the negligent actor bore responsibility. Finally, there are some hospitals in Florida that have been granted sovereign immunity. In that they are considered instruments of the state even though they serve the public, there are severe limits on the amount of damages that can be recovered against them. A quick search on the internet should provide information as to which hospitals have this protection.
In summary, because of the complexity of the various state laws, attorney Joe Taraska advises that an injured person seek legal advice from an attorney that specializes in this area of the law.