Thousands of patients fall victim to medical mistakes each year. Whereas some mistakes may just result in inconvenience, others can cause substantial harm and result in significant damages. Patients who’ve been harmed by medical mistakes incur extra expenses, lose income, suffer physical complications, and sustain emotional damages. If you’ve suffered harm as a result of medical negligence, you might be eligible to file a claim for medical malpractice. Damages you suffered are recoverable to compensate you for losses and expenses.
Keep in mind that when you file a claim, your doctor will not pay for your damages out-of-pocket; rather, your doctor's insurance company will generally cover the doctor's liability for these damages.
Types of Compensable Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim
The term “damages” refers to any losses, detriments, or injuries you’ve sustained as a result of another party’s negligence. In a medical malpractice case there are usually two – and sometimes three – types of compensable damages the insurer or courts may award you.
- Economic damages – Economic damages, also referred to as special damages, are the monetary losses you sustained as a result of the malpractice. These types of damages are easy to quantify using bills, receipts, and other documentation, though you must also account for the future economic damages you will sustain, and that can be more complicated.
- Non-economic damages – Non-economic damages, or general damages, are the intangible, non-monetary harms you suffered. Because they can’t be substantiated with receipts, non-economic damages can be challenging to calculate.
- Punitive damages – Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim for her actual losses. Rather, they punish the medical provider for gross negligence or wrongdoing and discourage future negligence. These types of damages are not awarded in every case. The courts will only consider awarding a victim punitive damages when the doctor’s actions were particularly egregious or outrageous.
Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases
Any type of financial loss you sustained as a result of the medical error can be included on your claim. Below is a sample of the types of economic damages victims can recover.
- Medical and rehabilitation expenses, including current and future treatments, prescriptions, and medical devices
- Medical-related transportation expenses
- The cost of living with your injuries, e.g., renovating your home to accommodate your injury or the cost of hiring in-home care
- Lost wages and loss of benefits
- Lost earning capacity
- Funeral expenses (for families filing a wrongful death claim for medical malpractice)
You will need to provide documentation for all your losses when you file your claim. You’ll want to collect any and all receipts and bills related to your injury, as well as evidence that documents your lost income and benefits. If your injuries are severe or necessitate long-term care, your lawyer may enlist in the help of a medical economist to calculate your future damages.
Non-Economic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases
Non-economic damages including any emotional or intangible harms you suffered due to the trauma of the incident and your injuries. Below are some examples of compensable general damages.
- Pain and suffering
- Mental distress and anguish
- Emotional issues and disorders, e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, etc.
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- The impact of your injuries on your relationships and ability to get along in society
- Permanent disability and disfigurement
- Loss of consortium (Loss of consortium is the umbrella term that refers to the damages that spouses of victims can recover damages for the loss of the emotional elements of their marriage, such as loss of companionship, affection, and comfort.)
Proving and valuing non-economic damages is an extremely complex subject. While some insurers or courts will try to calculate general damages by multiplying the special damages by a given factor (e.g., special damages x 2.5 = general damages), it’s actually much more complicated than that.
Numerous factors affect an insurer’s, judge’s, or jury’s decision when determining the non-economic damages portion of a settlement award. Published data on cases similar to yours, the doctor’s assets and insurance policy limits, the validity of your case, and much more can affect non-economic damages.
Your lawyer can provide you with an estimate of the value of your claim, as well as try to help you maximize your settlement. Keep in mind that Georgia capped non-economic damages at $350,000 against medical providers and an additional $350,000 against each health care facility, up to a total of $1,050,000. However, in 2010 the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the cap is unconstitutional.
Punitive Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases
When a medical provider’s negligence is willful or extreme, the judge has the authority to award the victim with punitive damages, above and beyond the settlement award for economic and non-economic damages.
O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(b) provides: “Punitive damages may be awarded only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”
The State of Georgia caps medical malpractice punitive damages at $250,000. Your lawyer can suggest that the courts grant you punitive damages in the complaint, and help provide the necessary evidence to support your claim.
Valuing and Proving Your Medical Malpractice Case
There is a lot that goes into valuing a malpractice claim. Collecting evidence, researching case studies, speaking with medical and economic field experts, and number crunching are all part of the process. It’s crucial to be thorough and accurate with the valuations so that you recover the full amount to which you’re entitled.
A medical malpractice lawyer will be a great ally and asset as you attempt to value your case and to prove your eligibility to recover damages. For a medical malpractice lawyer in Atlanta who handles medical malpractice cases, contact The Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C. Your initial consultation is free and you’re under no obligation to hire our services.
We will give your case the time and attention it needs, and see it through to completion. Also, our services are no-risk because we offer them on a contingency basis, which means you won’t get billed unless we win your case. Contact us today at 404-474-0804 to get started.