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Medical Malpractice Damages: State-by-state data trends

Filed Under: , Articles, Tables
March 29, 2024 by Madison Bratley

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The purpose of damages

Whether resulting in temporary infection or permanent paralysis, medical malpractice victims deserve proper compensation. Patients who have suffered from negligence or intentional harm on the part of healthcare providers may need additional treatment for their physical or mental health. They may have lost the ability to work for extended periods. Part of gaining justice for them means recovering a monetary award for their loss and suffering.

The legal system provides that payment in the form of awarding damages.

What are medical malpractice damages?

In the legal world, damages usually refer to money owed as a form of relief. Specifically, once a court of law — either through a judge’s decision or jury verdict — finds that a defendant indeed harmed the plaintiff in some way, the legal system will order the defendant to provide the plaintiff money, or damages, as a form of compensation.

It’s the plaintiff’s job to prove damages. However, in practice, both sides in a legal action will argue for or against whether damages should be awarded and in what amount.

Various factors influence how much a plaintiff wins in damages, which we’ll discuss later. There are also different categories of damages, which we’ll discuss next.

Types of medical malpractice damages

Similar to many other types of personal injury lawsuits, medical malpractice cases can generally end up with three different types of damages being awarded to the plaintiffs: economic and non-economic damages, which fall under the umbrella of compensatory rewards, and punitive damages.

In medical malpractice suits, the court’s role is to make sure that healthcare providers responsible for causing harm through their practice compensate their patients fairly. Accordingly, compensatory damages are generally awarded if a court rules in favor of a plaintiff. Their purpose is to “make the plaintiff whole,” which means to make up for any of the harm the defendant caused the plaintiff.

There are two types of compensatory damages. Economic damages are ones that in general, are easier to so to say “slap a price tag on.” If a surgical procedure went awry, the costs of that operation would generally fall under economic damages. The same might be said of misprescribed drugs, or medical tests that resulted in malpractice.

But economic damages don’t just have to be the result of a doctor, nurse, or technician’s direct actions. The income lost from not being able to work due to medical malpractice injuries can also require economic damages. So can the money a patient might have to pay for future medical treatments because of the alleged malpractice.

Non-economic damages are harder to quantify, which is partially why many parts of the country limit how much of them can be awarded, another topic addressed later. They are usually a way to compensate patients for emotional distress and loss of future quality of life — after all, while no receipt can prove the value of being able to walk properly, it’s easy to see how that change to their physicality could diminish facets of their everyday life. To compensate for these effects, courts may require providers to pay non-economic damages.

Finally, separate from compensatory damages are punitive damages, which the judicial system will infrequently require as a way of teaching healthcare providers a lesson for particularly egregious conduct. Punitive damages are harder to earn in a case.

States have distinct methods for governing and calculating these different categories of damages, which can affect how much money is paid in medical malpractice suits.

2023 Trends in Damages Awarded in United States

Since medical malpractice actions are usually brought under state as opposed to federal law, it’s important to look at differences in medical malpractice payments and regulations between different jurisdictions. Use this interactive map to learn more about each state.

Here are some highlights based on data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which collects the number of malpractice reports and the amount of malpractice damage payments each year. Those statistics encompass payments made for court orders and settlements. Also, note that the data is for individual practitioners.

States with the Highest Total Malpractice Payments in 2023:

1. New York
2. Florida
3. California
4. Illinois
5. New Jersey

It’s no surprise that populous states like New York, Florida, and California make the top of this list. Notably, California has caps on non-economic damages, but still ranked third.

States with the Highest Average (per report) Malpractice Payments in 2023:

1. Wyoming
2. Iowa
3. Rhode Island
4. Idaho
5. Montana

When it comes to medical malpractice averages, though, it’s smaller states with fewer medical malpractice payment reports that see the highest damages awarded. That may be because of given the relatively lower frequency of malpractice cases, a patient might win more money per report on average in these states.

What affects damage amounts?

As much as total and average payment statistics can reveal about medical malpractice damages, there’s a lot of variability in how much might be awarded to a plaintiff.

One factor that affects actual damages — at the high end — is the damage caps of the state with jurisdiction. A few states have laws that limit the amount of total compensatory damages patients can receive, while several only limit non-economic damages. Others don’t have any caps on economic or non-economic damages, either due to appellate court rulings,state constitutional provisions, or simply because their legislators didn’t pass the necessary laws.

Other consequential damage cap setups worth attorney consideration include limiting non-economic or punitive damages as a multiple of economic damages, as well as legislation which increases damage caps annually to match inflation.

Beyond individual state damage caps, what matters is convincing a jury, judge, or the other side — if you’re looking to settle — that your arguments hold up, and you deserve the damages you’re asking for. Ultimately, how persuasive your case sounds depend on your side’s evidence, understanding of the law, and knowledge of how the alleged malpractice may have occurred.

That’s where Comperio comes in. Our expertise in obtaining, analyzing, and leveraging emergency medical records to clarify important questions in malpractice suits can provide the necessary understanding to win the damages you deserve.

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