6 Apr, 2023

What Are the Types of Damages for Medical Malpractice Cases?

Author Todd A. Strong

Compensatory and punitive damages are the two main types of damages available for medical malpractice. Compensatory damages further fall into two main categories: economic and non-economic damages.

Wooden judge gavel and stethoscope on table, malpractice concept
Wooden judge gavel and stethoscope on table, malpractice concept

Many states impose a cap or limit on some types of damages for medical malpractice lawsuits. In Illinois, however, there is no cap on the damages you can claim in a medical malpractice case. A medical malpractice lawyer with a history of successfully representing medical malpractice victims can protect your rights and persistently fight for the highest compensation on your behalf.

What Are the Types of Damages Available for Medical Malpractice?

Compensatory and punitive damages are the two main types of damages available for medical malpractice. Compensatory damages further fall into two main categories: economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

This category covers objective, measurable, and verifiable losses that stem directly from an injury caused by medical malpractice. Any loss with a clear or approximated dollar value qualifies as an economic loss. These losses are sometimes called special damages. They have several subtypes, including:

Medical Costs

Medical bills can stack up quickly after sustaining an injury caused by a medical professional’s mistake or medical negligence. The bills can rise even more dramatically if you suffer a catastrophic injury that needs ongoing treatment and care. You could recover compensation to cover your past and current medical bills and those you will incur down the road.

The best way to ensure your compensation covers all your medical expenses is to involve a lawyer skilled in determining those costs. That requires you to know how to find the right medical malpractice lawyer for your unique situation.

Consult your lawyer before signing any settlement offer letter from the at-fault medical practitioner’s insurance company. Otherwise, you may receive a low settlement that cannot pay for all your medical expenses. 

Lost Wages

Medical malpractice injuries cause monetary losses that go over and above medical bills. You might see a significant decline in your post-injury earnings. You might also take quite a while to recover fully from your injuries. In some cases, your injuries may render you unable to work permanently.

Your compensation for lost wages should reflect your unique situation. It should, for instance, reflect the length of your projected recovery journey and your ability to earn a living in the future.

Sufficient evidence is necessary to demonstrate your past, present, and future lost wages or income. The following types of evidence may prove helpful in your case:

  • Your pre-injury and post-injury pay stubs to demonstrate the difference in your earnings
  • Your recent W-2s revealing your income from last tax years.
  • Your employer’s wage verification document showing how much you earn, how many hours you usually work, and how many days you have been away from work
  • Tax returns, received checks for services provided, banking documents, and account receivable documentation can help you prove your lost earnings if you own a business or are self-employed.
  • You will also need expert witness testimony to prove future lost earnings or decline in earning potential. Your lawyer will help you find the right expert witness for your unique situation.

Non-Economic Damages

These damages cover subjective financial losses that are hard to quantify and verify. Any loss without a specific or estimated dollar value falls under non-economic damages. These losses are sometimes known as general damages. They include the following:

Physical Pain and Suffering

Medical malpractice injuries can leave you with unbearable physical pain. You might also suffer from the emotional and psychological consequences of the injuries. Stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are some examples of mental health conditions that injured patients develop.

Amounts of damages for pain and suffering vary significantly, even for claims that seem nearly the same. Your lawyer may bring in an expert witness to help determine and prove your pain and suffering damages.

The most common method of calculating pain and suffering damages involves summing all the economic losses and multiplying the total by a figure between 1.5 and 5. The second figure is known as a “multiplier.” Several factors that range from your injury's severity and the likelihood of achieving fast and full recovery to the effect of your injuries on your everyday life determine the multiplier that will be used in determining your pain and suffering damages.

Loss of Consortium

Medical malpractice injuries do not affect victims only. They also subject the victims’ loved ones to suffering. Some states allow spouses and partners of the injured patient to recover compensation for the loss of their loved one’s care, support, services, and intimate relations through loss of consortium claims. In other states, children are entitled to compensation for the loss of love, care, guidance, support, and other intangible benefits that the medical malpractice victim provided.

Punitive Damages

You might recover punitive damages in your medical malpractice suit in rare instances. Each state has unique rules that specify when punitive damages might apply to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

These damages typically serve as a punishment to the wrongdoer for careless conduct that is highly likely to injure or kill others, or behavior that shows a lack of concern for the safety and well-being of others. They also serve as a warning for others considering engaging in similar behavior or conduct. The judge or jury determines how much punitive damages the liable healthcare professional or hospital should pay you.

How Much Is Your Medical Malpractice Case Worth?

How much your medical malpractice case is worth will depend on multiple variables. Besides increasing your odds of winning a medical malpractice suit, a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer can investigate your case and review all the variables to give you an accurate estimate. 

Variables that might impact the value of your medical malpractice suit include:

Your Injuries’ Nature and Severity

Injuries are the most crucial factor in determining how much a medical malpractice suit is worth. The reason is that your injuries will require medical treatment and care, which will cost money. A severe injury or permanent disability will need follow-up treatment and long-term care.

Medical malpractice injuries could also result in pain and suffering. Expect serious injuries to lead to significant pain and suffering. As such, the more severe your injuries, the higher the value of your claim.

Other Losses Stemming from Your Injury

Other medical malpractice-related losses will also affect how much your case is worth. These losses include lost wages if you missed work for a while or were unable to return to your pre-injury position. They also include out-of-pocket expenses like the costs of assistive medical devices, prescription medications, and transport to and from the doctor’s office. Non-economic losses like emotional agony, reduced quality of life, and scarring and disfigurement are other essential variables to consider.

Amount of Evidence Available

Medical malpractice cases require strong and compelling evidence to demonstrate that the doctor neglected his or her professional duty and prove the aggregate value of the case. You might recover a low compensation amount or nothing if your case has weak and inadequate evidence.

The Defendant’s Insurance Policy Limits

Medical malpractice cases often resolve through settlement agreements with insurance companies of the liable healthcare facility or professional. So, the liable party’s coverage limit will impact the settlement amount you will receive. You might, for instance, receive compensation that does not cover the full scope of your losses if the total value of your claim exceeds the liable party’s coverage limit.

Are Medical Malpractice Damages Capped?

Most states have a law that caps or limits the damages a plaintiff can receive after winning a medical malpractice suit. Some states limit all types of damages a successful plaintiff can receive, with most states limiting only non-economic damages.

Illinois currently does not have a law that caps the amount of damages you can receive after winning a medical malpractice lawsuit. That was not the case before 2010. The state had enforced a law that capped non-economic damages for claims against liable medical professionals at $500,000 and cases against hospitals at $1 million. The Illinois Supreme Court found this cap unconstitutional in 2010, which led to the invalidation of the specific law that placed a cap on damages.

Statute of Limitations for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

A statute of limitations is a law that places a cap on the length of time you have to begin your case in the appropriate court. Knowing how long you have to sue for medical malpractice can help you protect your rights to pursue compensation. It can also help you take reasonable steps to build a strong case that will improve your chances of recovering maximum compensation. In Illinois, for instance, you generally have two years from when you noticed your injury, or should have noticed your medical malpractice injury using reasonable diligence, to initiate a lawsuit. 

About The Author

Photo of Todd A. Strong
Illinois workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer Todd A. Strong is the founder of Strong Law Offices in Peoria, Illinois. Todd brings considerable legal knowledge, experience, and skill to the table to ensure injured victims throughout the state are treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.