Payouts for medical malpractice claims vary greatly, making it difficult to nail down a specific financial outcome. Each malpractice case has facts and circumstances that impact the potential payout, so the average payout for a medical malpractice claim does not indicate the amount you might receive for your case. It’s helpful to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can evaluate your case and provide an estimate of what your medical malpractice claim could be worth.
Until you have the chance to meet with a medical error lawyer, this blog will take a closer look at the factors that impact the value of a medical malpractice claim. On a broad level, medical malpractice claims typically include compensation for economic loss and non-economic losses.
Sometimes malpractice victims also receive punitive damages if they prevail in their medical malpractice claims. Below, we provide detailed explanations of each type of compensation and how they impact the potential payout of a medical malpractice claim. First, we need to discuss payout caps on medical malpractice claims.
Medical Malpractice Injury Claim Guide
- Economic Losses in Medical Malpractice Claims
- Non-economic Losses in Medical Malpractice Claims
- Calculating Non-economic Losses for a Medical Malpractice Claim
- Punitive Damages in Medical Malpractice Claims
- Payout Caps on Medical Malpractice Cases
Economic Losses in Medical Malpractice Claims
The total economic loss a medical malpractice victim faces varies greatly among claims. Some patients need extensive recovery, forcing them to stay home from work for months as medical bills roll in. The economic losses from injuries related to medical malpractice can place a significant financial burden on many households.
Depending on the situation, victims and their families might face bankruptcy, vehicle repossession, and the inability to pay for basic needs. Other families drain their savings and must use credit cards to survive, leaving them with massive debt.
The more economic loss a malpractice victim incurs, the higher the value of their potential payout for medical malpractice injuries. Examples of items typically included in the economic loss portion of a medical malpractice claim include:
Medical expenses include various treatment costs a victim of medical malpractice might incur.
Common medical expenses included as economic loss in a medical malpractice claim include:
- Ambulance and emergency services
- Surgery and related expenses
- Additional treatment
- Doctor visits for a second opinion
- Additional diagnostic testing, including lab tests and imaging
- Facility transfer if the malpractice occurred while someone was hospitalized
If injuries from medical malpractice cause a permanent condition or injury, a claim might also include estimated future medical expenses for treatment and sometimes long-term nursing care.
Those who suffer harm from medical malpractice often need to undergo some rehabilitation. The exact specialized treatment someone needs depends on the injury.
Rehabilitation costs that could be part of the economic loss in a medical malpractice claim include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Respiratory therapy
- Mental health services
Lost Wages and Benefits
Many medical malpractice victims cannot work for some time because of their injuries. Some might need weeks or months away from their job to focus on rehabilitation and recovering from their injuries. Full-time employees use up their paid time off, including sick days, personal days, and vacation time. Once they’ve used their paid time, they must take an unpaid leave of absence. Lost employment income accumulates quickly and can drastically increase the value of a medical malpractice claim.
Lost Earning Capacity
Lost future wages, formally referred to as lost earning capacity, can drastically increase the economic loss for a medical malpractice victim. If a medical error or medical negligence leads to a catastrophic injury, victims cannot return to work or seek employment in the future because of their permanent disability.
If you cannot return to your job, your lawyer will estimate the amount of money and benefits you would have received throughout your life and include it in your medical malpractice claim.
Coming up with this value is straightforwards for adults who had an established career before medical malpractice injuries. However, calculating lost earning capacity for infants, young children, and teenagers can be difficult. Lost earning capacity requires estimating the life expectancy of an injured person, which varies greatly.
Home Modification Costs
Although medical malpractice victims want to return home as soon as possible, leaving the hospital does not mean they have fully recovered from injuries and might still suffer permanent conditions. Depending on the person and the exact injuries, returning home sometimes requires modifications so a person can safely navigate their daily routine at home. Some modifications are inexpensive, and others are costly, greatly increasing the value of a medical malpractice claim.
Examples of home modifications to include in a medical malpractice claim include costs for:
- Building a wheelchair ramp
- Installing handrails, grab bars, and other features to make bathrooms more accessible
- Building a home addition on the main floor for those who struggle with mobility
Replacement Service Costs
Severe or permanent injuries leave some medical malpractice victims unable to complete many of the tasks they used to do around the house. Sometimes family members can pick up the slack, but this doesn’t always happen. Some victims live alone, or their family members become their caregivers, making it difficult to perform extra tasks. Hiring outside help—at least temporarily—is a common solution for many medical malpractice victims and their families.
Examples of replacement services that families sometimes need to pay for after a loved one suffers medical malpractice injuries include:
- Lawncare/landscaping service
- Snow removal, if applicable
- Laundry service
- Maid or cleaning service
- Cook, meal delivery, or grocery delivery
- Personal assistant or driver
Non-economic Losses in Medical Malpractice Claims
Your malpractice claim also includes non-economic losses. It’s common for high economic losses to come with high non-economic losses, increasing the potential payout for a medical malpractice claim.
Non-economic damages center on how someone’s injuries have negatively impacted their life in intangible ways. The value of your non-economic losses plays a large role in determining the payout of a medical malpractice claim.
Insurance companies and defendants fight these damages fiercely because they are more difficult to quantify, making them more challenging to prove. Examples of items often included in the non-economic loss portion of a medical malpractice claim include:
Pain and Suffering
The most common non-economic loss in medical malpractice claims is pain and suffering. Your lawyer will evaluate how your physical pain and emotional distress have impacted your life and place a monetary value on your claim. Compensation for pain and suffering usually includes the pain someone has already faced and considers future pain and suffering.
Diminished Quality of Life
Some medical malpractice injuries reduce a person’s quality of life, which refers to one’s general health and capacity to partake in normal activities. Depending on the exact injury, someone might struggle with personal care like hygiene, taking care of others, working, and engaging in sports and other recreational activities. Those with a diminished quality of life cannot participate in these types of activities the same way they did before suffering harm from medical malpractice.
Loss of Consortium
Medical malpractice injuries also impact marital relations inside and outside the bedroom, making it another common non-economic loss in medical malpractice claims. Those with injuries may lose the ability to engage in physical intimacy, creating feelings of inadequacy and other negative emotions. Severe injuries can cause physical and emotional divides between couples, creating issues with intimacy and communication.
Calculating Non-economic Losses for a Medical Malpractice Claim
Calculating non-economic damages pose a special challenge for lawyers and insurance companies because of the subjective nature of placing value on intangible things. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer draws upon past claims and consults with experts to reach a number. Factors that lawyers and insurance companies rely upon to calculate non-economic losses include:
Severity of Injuries
Broadly, the more severe injuries someone suffers from medical malpractice, the larger the potential payout of their claim. Minor injuries heal faster, and patients do not have to spend significant time in the hospital or miss work. However, those who suffer the most severe harm may spend months in the hospital and cannot work, resulting in massive non-economic losses because of the impact on their life.
Medical malpractice claims that emerge from misdiagnoses or the failure to diagnose a disease or condition sometimes make it too late for patients to receive effective treatment. Typically, malpractice claims that involve a terminal condition have a much higher payout.
Nature of Injuries
The nature of someone’s injuries, strongly related to severity, can also impact the non-economic portion of a medical malpractice claim. Aside from the terminal illness example mentioned above, various other severe and permanent injuries leave malpractice victims with chronic pain and mental anguish.
Some injuries leave people with negative emotions, including anger, embarrassment, anxiety, and depression. Those left with permanent scars have a lifelong reminder of the trauma of medical malpractice.
Chances of a Full Recovery
A patient’s chances for a full recovery drastically impact their potential payout in a medical malpractice claim. Their long-term prognosis is closely related to the nature and severity of their injuries. It’s a long road for a full recovery after a severe injury, and some will never recover from their injuries or condition after malpractice.
Those who suffer permanent damage or disability usually have much higher value claims. The existence of a permanent injury is one of the most contested aspects of a medical malpractice claim. You can expect the insurance company to require you to visit an independent third-party medical provider to offer a second opinion and verify permanent damage.
Punitive Damages in Medical Malpractice Claims
Some states allow medical malpractice victims to sue for punitive damages. Punitive damages are a special type of compensation in personal injury claims, including those involving medical malpractice, intended to punish the defendant and deter negligent behavior. The standard for malpractice involves comparing a medical provider’s actions or inactions with the standard accepted in the medical community.
Would a medical professional in the same situation make the same choices regarding the claimant’s treatment? When the answer to this question demonstrates egregious acts, such as concealing the error from a patient or changing medical records, it’s more likely that a patient could receive punitive damages in their medical malpractice claim.
Payout Caps on Medical Malpractice Cases
Medical malpractice attorneys evaluate their clients’ injuries and underlying facts and place a monetary value on the claim. Regardless of the amount that a medical malpractice claim is worth, laws about the amount a malpractice victim can collect in a claim can reduce the payout.
Each state has different laws about malpractice claims, so the extent to which a cap on damages impacts a payout depends on where you live. More than 30 states cap on at least one type of damage. Most states do not limit economic damages. Whether your medical expenses and lost wages total $20,000 or $2 million, you will likely recover these losses if you win your case. The big variation in caps comes with non-economic damages and punitive damages.
Many states cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims, like pain and suffering. Amounts vary and are higher in some cases, but $250,000 is a common cap in states that restrict recovery of non-economic damages. The cap increases in medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits.
In states that allow punitive damages, the caps vary greatly. Some laws restrict punitive damages based on the amount of compensatory damages—economic plus non-economic damages—someone receives. For example, in some states, victims may not recover punitive damages of more than three times the compensatory damages they receive.
Some states also punish medical professionals and facilities by removing the cap for punitive damages when the medical professional or facility in the lawsuit commits fraud or misrepresents the error or negligence that harmed a patient.
Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney who knows how to apply the law to your case. They can advise you on the possible amount you could receive in a settlement agreement or jury verdict in your favor and ensure they account for all your losses in your claim.