Medical malpractice claims, as well as the damages that are sustained due to malpractice, are widely debated topics in our country today. The points of some contention are whether the provider was responsible for the injuries, the cost of medical malpractice insurance, and the states’ movements toward limiting recoveries for the devastating harm that is often inflicted. The statistics surrounding these claims are staggering. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study1 indicating that one percent of all doctors in the United States account for nearly a third of all paid medical malpractice claims.
With respect to the damages in a medical malpractice case, an individual who has been injured through the negligence of a medical provider can recover a few different types of damages. Those damages would include medical bills, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as future earnings losses. If a patient dies as a result of a practitioner’s negligence, the patient’s family and heirs can also receive damages. There are three categories of damages that are generally available in medical malpractice cases. Those categories are general, special and punitive damages.
General Damages or Non-Economic Damages
General damages exist to compensate the patient for his or her suffering. The difficulty with general damages is that they cannot readily be ascertained. Some examples of general damages are the loss of enjoyment of life, physical and mental pain and suffering, and loss of future earning capacity. In most cases, both sides will retain experts to evaluate the injuries sustained and surrounding circumstances in order to determine the dollar figure.
For example, with the loss of future earning capacity, both plaintiff and defendant may retain a forensic accountant to opine on the damages amount for the future earning capacity. This is especially true if the patient is relatively young and will be impaired long term. General damages are only available for injuries sustained in the accident and not for any pre-existing conditions. Should any pre-existing conditions exist, it may be useful to retain experts who will be able to testify whether or not the pre-existing condition has been aggravated and if so, the degree of impairment.
Special Damages or Economic Damages
Special damages do not bring as many challenges with them as general damages do, as they are fairly ascertainable. For example, medical bills and past missed work, which is typically called wage loss. While there may be some guesswork to calculate future medical expenses, special damages are not hard to determine. An expert may not be necessary with respect to these damages, except to prove that your treatment and missed work were necessary for your injuries.
In a limited number of circumstances, a patient can recover punitive damages in addition to his or her general and special damages. Punitive damages are more difficult to prove, however. The general requirement for punitive damages is that the medical provider knowingly or intentionally caused harm to the patient. An example of such a behavior is that the doctor knew that he had to fix two hernias but he only fixed one in order to bring the patient back for a second surgery. A judge or jury will determine the amount of punitive damages in accordance to the severity of the behavior by the medical professional, however, there are state and federal constitutional limits on punitive damages. The limit is generally that punitive damages cannot be more than several times the amount of special and general damages.
Florida Limitations on Economic and Non-Economic Damages
Many states, including Florida2, have limits on what patients can recover for their non-economic damages such as anxiety, scarring, loss of companionship, and pain suffering. Florida does not, however, cap recovery for patients’ economic losses. In 2003, the Florida Supreme Court removed the cap on economic damages in wrongful death cases.3 The cap for other medical malpractice claims remains. It is also noteworthy that Florida also utilizes different caps for medical practitioners including doctors and other care providers. There is no such cap for other defendants. Florida’s courts also have the power to increase that cap should the cases so warrant.
Call our experienced medical malpractice attorneys at our Clearwater, FL location today
If you have suffered an injury because of medical malpractice, please contact our skilled and experienced attorneys at the Dolman Law Group. We can assist you with evaluating your case and what your legal rights are. Please call our office at 727-451-6900 today.