Medical malpractice is when a healthcare provider or professional fails to provide adequate treatment, doesn’t exercise necessary actions, or engages in neglectful behavior (intentionally or unintentionally), which leads to a patient’s injuries, harm, or death.
While nearly every medical procedure carries some risk, medical malpractice constitutes medical harm or injuries that should have been easily avoided. When neglect is involved, patients may pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, you might be wondering what types of compensation a patient may gain from a successful medical malpractice lawsuit.
The total amount depends upon factors like:
- The severity of the injury
- Immediate expenses
- The impact of the injury on the patient’s physical and mental health
We’ll explore different forms of compensation available following a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Economic Versus Non-Economic Damages
The primary forms of compensation available following a medical malpractice lawsuit are economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are sometimes referred to as special damages and typically involve an exact or closely estimated dollar figure. Examples include:
- Immediate and future medical expenses
- Out-of-pocket expenses such as travel costs
- Lost wages and job rehabilitation
- Physical therapy costs
- Attorney fees
- Funeral costs (in the case of wrongful death)
Non-economic damages are the second leading form of compensation available, and these damages are sometimes referred to as special damages. Examples might include compensation for:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost or reduced earning power
- Temporary and permanent disfigurement
- Reduction in quality of life
- Reduced sexual functions or desires
- Mental anguish (including the development of disorders like PTSD)
While economic or general damages can be relatively easy to calculate, non-economic damages are more subjective. Ways to better calculate non-economic damages include having an expert testify how a victim’s medical malpractice injury will affect the rest of their life.
A patient may also qualify for punitive damages depending upon circumstances. Most states require the medical professional to have known they were exhibiting harmful behavior. For this reason, punitive damages are rarer. Besides medical professionals being less likely to cause harm intentionally, cases qualifying for punitive damages are harder to prove.
However, cases like a doctor knowingly giving a patient the wrong medication, leaving objects inside their bodies to force another surgery, or administering surgeries when they’re not in the right state of mind (such as a surgeon being under the influence) still happen.
Another example might be the healthcare provider, such as a hospital cutting corners by using outdated medical equipment to save money or knowingly having unsanitary conditions.
While economic and non-economic damages are meant to make a victim “whole”, punitive damages punish the perpetrator with the goal in mind of preventing any future offenses. Punitive damages may also be used to deter similar actions from other parties.
The jury or judge determines the exact punitive damages amount, which can’t be more than several times the compensation awarded for economic and non-economic damages.