How Much is a Medical Malpractice Case Worth?
The answer depends on a few key specifics
on April 29, 2022
Updated on January 26, 2023
When a healthcare provider injures you or a loved one through medical malpractice, you may suffer financially, emotionally or physically. Depending on the specifics of your case, you might be able to recover for these injuries through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
To do so, you will need to show that your medical provider’s treatment fell below the expected standard of care in your area. Further, you will need to prove that this medical negligence caused specific harm, such as lost income or increased medical expenses.
Before taking legal action, many injured patients want to know how much their case might be worth. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Payouts on medical malpractice cases can vary widely. It depends on the type of injury, your attorney’s skill, legal caps on malpractice claims, and more.
To better evaluate how much you might be able to recover for medical malpractice, you should understand how lawyers estimate a malpractice case’s value. Remember that your doctor’s attorneys and insurance company will have similar strategies to assess what your case might be worth.
How are Damages Calculated for Medical Malpractice?
When lawyers estimate medical malpractice case value, they first consider compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages. Compensatory damages exist to make an injured patient “whole” again. There is no way to perfectly make up for the injuries a patient has suffered. But compensatory damages can help cover the expenses and compensate for the suffering that resulted. The goal is to bring the injured patient back to the state of wholeness they were in before the medical malpractice injury occurred.
In some unusual cases, you might be entitled to punitive damages too. However, punitive damages are only available for extreme cases of medical malpractice. These are cases that fall outside of the realm of acceptable treatment.
The types of compensatory damages are covered below.
Economic damages are quantifiable damages. In other words, you can put a dollar amount on them. Consider, for example, if a doctor operates on the wrong side of the body. The patient may need more surgeries and a more extended hospital stay, causing increased medical expenses. They may lose wages, too. These are all damages that you can easily break down into dollars and cents.
Economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Reduced earning capacity
- Missed contributions to retirement funds.
The medical bills category often includes projected future medical expenses. Depending on the severity of the injury, these future costs can be substantial.
However, there may also be pain and anxiety resulting from a botched surgery and disfigurement. These are more difficult to quantify. They are called non-economic damages.
Damages that are difficult to assign a dollar number onto are called non-economic damages. These include:
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of companionship (if a loved one dies due to medical malpractice)
You might also hear people calling non-economic damages general damages. The dollar amount for non-economic damages depends on the details of your case. If your case goes to trial, you will likely need to testify about how your injury affects your quality of life. Your attorney will probably advise you to hire an expert witness too. They will give expert testimony to illustrate the consequences of your injury.
The rules on punitive damages vary among states. Generally, though, punitive damages are much less common than other damages. You can only receive punitive damages if your medical provider treated you in a deliberate, fraudulent or otherwise egregious manner. The behavior would need to fall well outside the scope of standard medical treatment.
Which Types of Cases Offer the Largest Payouts?
The amount of money you might recover for your medical malpractice claim depends on the details of your case. There are some general trends regarding payouts that might help you evaluate your claim.
Claims that only result in minimal short-term damages will usually result in lower average settlement amounts and verdicts. These could include minor medication errors with injuries that resolve quickly.
If you or a loved one is a victim of medical malpractice that caused the need for further surgeries, this would probably result in a higher malpractice award.
Some of the highest malpractice awards typically arise from claims involving:
- Nursing home neglect and abuse
- Labor and delivery malpractice that causes significant harm to mother or baby
- Errors that lead to amputation
- Malpractice that causes chronic conditions
- Surgical errors in which a doctor leaves a foreign object inside the body
- Wrongful death claims
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis that caused harmful delays in treatment or permanent injuries
Generally, the malpractice claims that result in the highest average payouts occur where the patient or family member has suffered the greatest consequences. If your life has changed due to medical malpractice, you should contact a lawyer for legal advice and a case evaluation.
Do Most Medical Malpractice Cases Settle Without Going to Court?
Yes, in most cases, parties reach a medical malpractice settlement without needing to go to court. You should be aware, though, that medical malpractice cases tend to take longer to settle than other personal injury claims. Medical malpractice is typically more complex and requires input from expert witnesses.
To prepare for the negotiation process, your attorney will estimate the value of your case. Although it’s easy to add up your medical bills and lost wages, other damages may be more challenging to assess. For instance, you might be entitled to compensation for physical and emotional pain. But these are much more difficult to put a number on. The subjectivity of pain and suffering makes it a complicated issue during a settlement negotiation. However, suppose your attorney believes that you may be entitled to significant damages for your pain and suffering. In that case, this issue can drive up the settlement value.
Whenever parties settle a case, the payout is usually lower than it might have been by following through with the malpractice suit. However, the benefit to settling is that it eliminates risk. If you take your case to trial, there is always the chance that you might not win. A settlement allows you to end this uncertainty. Many injured patients may prefer a settlement because it puts an end to the legal process. Sometimes, the most important thing is to move on.
However, you and your attorney might decide to pursue your malpractice claim to trial if you have a strong case and want to maximize your award.
Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages
There may be limits, or caps, on the amount you can recover for medical malpractice in your area. These limits will depend on your particular state’s laws.
Your state may place an overall limit on the total amount you can recover for medical malpractice. However, some states may only limit non-economic damages. In other words, they prevent plaintiffs from securing large payouts for pain, suffering and other injuries that are difficult to quantify.
One of the reasons for these caps is to ensure that medical malpractice insurance does not become prohibitively expensive. Another reason is to prevent unnecessary litigation. However, these caps can be controversial, so they are subject to change.
Why Contact an Attorney?
If you are considering suing a medical professional, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.
Your doctor or medical provider will probably have a team of lawyers and will have the support of their hospital. A good medical malpractice attorney can help you formulate your case against these legal professionals. Further, an attorney and their staff will keep track of deadlines in your case, collect paperwork, and request the medical records you will need. Your attorney should also be skilled at negotiating with insurance companies. They will likely have connections to medical experts who can testify on your behalf, too. An excellent medical expert can sometimes make a big difference in the outcome of your case.
Before you decide on an attorney, you should do some research and arrange introductory meetings. Most law firms and attorneys offer a free consultation to help you determine whether they are the right fit for you.
Your state may put a time limit (a statute of limitation) on your ability to file a medical malpractice claim. So, it would be wise to contact an attorney as soon as you become aware that your healthcare provider’s negligence injured you.
To learn more about this area of law, see our overview on medical malpractice.