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Types of Medical Malpractice Damages

Nov 23, 2021

A doctor’s negligence can cause injuries as well as losses. These damages could have occurred in the past or may take effect in the future. Under the law, you are entitled to just, fair, and reasonable compensation for your injuries, suffering, and financial losses.

The purpose of an award of damages is not only to compensate you for a doctor’s negligence but, in some states, to also punish or penalize a doctor for deviating from standard medical practice (punitive damages).

Damages are calculated for your:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental distress and suffering
  • Permanent impairment or loss of bodily functions
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures
  • Loss of consortium
  • Death
  • Lost wages 
  • Loss of benefits, such as pension contributions
  • Medical care expenses
  • Custodial care
  • Lost future earnings
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Funeral expenses if the injury resulted in death

What are the types of malpractice damages?

There are two main types of damages in medical malpractice:

  1. Economic damages
  2. Non-economic damages

For economic losses, you must prove that the expenses you incurred or the future earnings you lost were proximately caused by the doctor’s negligent acts or omissions. For non-economic damages, the nature and duration of any pain and suffering are considered.

Economic damages are objective, measurable, and actual monetary losses that cover the direct financial impact of your injuries. Non-economic damages are subjective and difficult to quantify because they are losses that can not be verified using measures like documented bills and receipts. 

The three categories of the damages that come under these two types in medical malpractice are:

General damages

Money is awarded in a lawsuit for injuries suffered (such as pain, suffering, inability to perform certain functions) or loss of enjoyment in life. No exact dollar value can be calculated and is referred to as general damages. If it is apparent that you suffered permanent physical harm, loss of function, or disfigurement, you are entitled to be compensated for this category of injury. The award should align with the nature, extent, and length of time you are reasonably expected to go through any unfortunate experiences. It is important to note that you may not be compensated for a pre-existing injury.

Special damages

Special and economic damages are generally more exact than general damages. These include medical bills to recover expenses associated with medical care, costs incurred for the treatment of injuries caused by negligent acts or omissions, and loss of earnings up to the present time. If you are permanently impaired and have lost all earning capacity, the attorney will calculate the total amount you would have earned in your life.

Punitive damages

Damages awarded in addition to general and special damages under certain circumstances, are called punitive damages. They are awarded not only for compensation but also to punish the doctor or other medical professional for their negligent misconduct. For example; according to the incident mentioned in the article the Atlantic when a doctor purposely misdiagnosed patients a doctor intentionally misread the patients’ EEGs and misdiagnosed them with epilepsy in childhood, all to increase his pay. This may result in a judgment that includes punitive damages, for deliberately misdiagnosing or performing unnecessary procedures for personal gains.

The amount of punitive damages that can be awarded is at the discretion of the jury but is subject to the judge’s approval. Many judges will not permit more than ten times the amount of special and general damages as a punitive award to the plaintiff.

Damages for Death in Medical Malpractice

When your loved one dies because of medical negligence, you can file a lawsuit against the doctor or the hospital that is responsible for the death. The two types of damage claims that can be made under wrongful death are:

Wrongful death damage 

Wrongful death damages can be based on the loss of the deceased’s future monetary compensation and the trauma associated with the loss of a loved one. These calculations can be done by projecting factors like the victim’s future earnings, savings, expenses, and working habits. Each state has different laws for calculating the non-economic damages based on wrongful death cases.

Survival damage

Survival damages are the damages associated with the period after the negligence occurred up to the point the victim dies. These damages include medical care expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. The damages are awarded to the patient’s heir and generally include all the same calculations used in medical malpractice that would be given to the patient if the patient would have lived. 

What are caps on different types of damages?

Nearly 30 states have laws that limit damages in medical malpractice actions. The laws vary widely in terms of the maximum amount of damages. Some have limitations on the amount that can be given as compensation for both economic and non-economic damages.

Others have it only for non-economic damages like mental distress and suffering, loss of life enjoyment, disfigurement or scarring.

How are legal malpractice damages calculated?

General Damages

The general damages include both physical and emotional suffering. Physical pain and suffering can be caused by injuries, scarring, or disfigurement. These are calculated by considering Emotional and physical pain and suffering, including mental distress, anguish, anger, agitation, social isolation, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, damage to relationships.

Special Damages

Special damages are comparatively easy because they are calculated to the exact dollar using medical bills, earning capacity, and other financial losses. This includes the losses from the past, present, and future due to the negligent act or omission. It can be difficult to estimate the damages for future lost earnings and earning capacity. Therefore, it is generally calculated factoring in present value and life expectancy. The present value is the current value of a future sum of money.

Life expectancy is evaluated based on the statistical measure provided by the federal government. The number of years the person is expected to live is based on the person’s characteristics like age, sex, race, BMI, diet, medical history, and other behavioral habits.

Calculating financial damages for medical malpractice cases is often complex and usually requires a medical economist that your lawyer will hire as an expert witness for your case.

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