What Damages Are Available in Medical Malpractice Cases?

September 2, 2021 Posted In Medical Malpractice

When a medical professional or healthcare provider’s negligence causes harm to a patient, or worse, it is the victim’s or their surviving family’s right to recover compensation. Compensation can be secured in the form of damages by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. There are three types of damages potentially available in medical malpractice cases: special, general, and punitive. 

Special Damages

Special damages also referred to as economic damages, are awarded to reimburse measurable financial losses as a direct result of medical malpractice, such as:

  • Medical Expenses: Costs for care and treatment related to the illness or injury resulting from the healthcare provider’s negligence.
  • Anticipated Future Medical Expenses: Any costs related to the illness or injury for medical care that you will receive after the conclusion of litigation. 
  • Lost Wages: For the time missed from work while recovering, both up until now and any time that will be missed in the future. 
  • Diminished Earning Capacity: If the harm done interferes with your ability to earn wages in the future, by either being unable to work or forcing you into a different line of work. Then you may be entitled to compensation for the difference in income. 

General Damages

General damages are also known as non-economic damages that compensate victims of medical malpractice for incalculable or subjective losses. The most common examples are: 

  • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for the amount of physical pain you have had to endure and will in the future, as well as emotional distress caused by the injury or illness. Emotional distress can include symptoms of depression, insomnia, anxiety, and other psychological conditions. 
  • Disability or Disfigurement: If you now have a permanent disability, that leaves you unable to care for yourself independently. Disfigurement and scarring may cause physical pain and emotional pain that can last a lifetime. As a result, your ability to enjoy life or socialize can be negatively impacted.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: Compensation for how your quality of life has been affected. For example, being unable to do things that you could do before being harmed by medical malpractice. 
  • Loss of Consortium: A spouse can recover this type of damages for the loss of marital benefits, such as affection, companionship, or sexual relations. 

The law does not provide a formula for placing a dollar value on non-economic damages, but California does have a cap. The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) sets a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages. This cap is highly controversial, especially in cases of extreme negligence, but it has no bearing on economic damages (e.g., medical bills, lost income, etc.). 

Punitive Damages

In medical malpractice cases involving extreme negligence, punitive damages may be awarded. There are no set criteria for what qualifies as extreme negligence. The definition is open to interpretation—and may even vary from court to court. That said, certain situations clearly warrant punitive damages, such as a surgeon performing the wrong procedure or amputating the wrong limb. This type of compensation is awarded to the victim, but it is intended to punish the defendant (at-fault party) and deter others from similar reckless conduct.

Think you might have a case? Contact our Riverside medical malpractice attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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