Now that an ever-growing number of states in the United States are enacting limitations (“caps”) on the amount that medical malpractice victims can recover for their pain, suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement and other noneconomic injuries caused by careless and negligent medical care providers, what has been the effect on the amounts that have been awarded versus the amounts that have been paid?
In 2003, the State of Texas enacted legislation that put a cap (limit) on the amount of noneconomic damages that could be recovered in medical malpractice cases in the amount of $250,000 if the claims were against individual medical care providers.
A study of Texas medical malpractice claims that were closed between 1988 and 2004 (before the cap on noneconomic damages had an effect in Texas) estimated that jury verdicts in those closed claims in favor of plaintiffs (the injured victims of medical malpractice) would have been affected by the noneconomic damages cap (if it had been in effect) in 47% of the jury verdicts and would have reduced the mean allowed noneconomic damages awarded by 73% (from $597,000 to $158,000), reduced the mean allowed jury verdict by 37% (from $1.28 million to $800,000), and reduced the mean total amount paid by 27% (from $696,000 to $512,000).
The cap on noneconomic damages would have affected 18% of the medical malpractice cases settled without a trial and the effect on mean total payment would have been reduced by 18% (from $313,000 to $257,000). (The effect would have been less on settled medical malpractice cases because settled cases tend to result in lower payments than those medical malpractice cases that are tried to verdict that are in favor of the plaintiff.)
The cap on noneconomic damages would have had a greater effect on unemployed plaintiffs, deceased plaintiffs, and older plaintiffs (the elderly).
The study also reached some conclusions on a national level: a single noneconomic damages cap in the amount of $250,000 affects 52% of the jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs and reduces payments after verdicts by 29%. The mean allowed verdicts would have been reduced within a range of 28% in Wisconsin to 76% in Louisiana and the impact on mean payments would range from 7% in Illinois to 42% in Louisiana. The disparate effect of caps on noneconomic damages on different groups of plaintiffs decreases as the amount of the cap increases. When the cap is not adjusted for inflation, the effect of the cap increases over time (the California cap eliminated 35% of noneconomic damages and reduced payments by 8% in 1975 but by 2003, the California cap eliminated 79% of noneconomic damages and reduced payments by 29%; by 2043, 94% of the noneconomic damages may be eliminated and payments may be reduced by 40%).
The study acknowledged its limitations, including not knowing the effect of caps on noneconomic damages on the frequency of medical malpractice claims, the effect on medical malpractice insurance premiums, the total cost of medical malpractice claims, or how the caps affect the decisions of the plaintiffs and defendants with regard to litigating medical malpractice cases.
So what may this mean for you and your family? If you or a family member have a legitimate claim for medical malpractice involving substantial noneconomic damages, such as life-long excruciating pain, severe and permanent disfigurement (such as an amputation), and debilitating mental anguish, and your claim is limited by a cap on noneconomic damages, you will never receive fair compensation or justice for your losses due to the negligent medical errors and mistakes of careless medical providers.
When medical malpractice strikes you or a loved one, visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your area who may be able to help you with your medical malpractice claim or call us toll free at 800-295-3959. Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.