Settlements and Noneconomic Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases
Mistakes or substandard treatment by doctors or other health care providers can be devastating and sometimes life altering. The patient’s trust in the medical system is typically destroyed, which can have long term consequences on the overall health of the patient, possibly for the remainder of his/her life. Given these implications, it is important that injured parties in medical malpractice cases work to get the highest amount of compensation possible from the health care provider and malpractice insurance company. A recent article on Stat News looks at a newly published study that contends a very small minority of doctors account for a disproportionately large amount of medical malpractice incidents. Specifically, the study found that one percent of physicians were implicated in 32 percent of malpractice cases. Further, once a doctor is sued, the likelihood of additional lawsuits increases, which is attributed to either substandard practices or a willingness to take on riskier patients. Florida, seeking to reduce litigation costs in malpractice cases and reduce suits that are unlikely to succeed, requires parties attempt to settle the case before trial and imposes specific rules on awards for noneconomic damages.
The parties in every medical malpractice case are required to attend a settlement conference at least three weeks before the first scheduled day of trial. Lawyers presenting at trial, the parties and anyone with authority to authorize settlement must attend the conference unless they are excused by the court. Further, malpractice insurance carriers may decide to settle a case without consulting with the doctor, and as a result, each settlement agreement must include a disclaimer that the decision to settle may be entirely based on economic considerations and is not an admission of liability by the doctor. Thus, while settlement will provide financial relief, the injured patient may not receive a much-desired apology from the doctor who caused their injury.
Noneconomic damages relate to nonfinancial losses connected with an injury, like pain and suffering, mental anguish and inability to enjoy life. These types of injuries are hard to quantify, and Florida law limits how much a plaintiff can recover for noneconomic damages. For claims against negligent physicians, the patient can only recover up to $500,000. This cap applies to all parties claiming negligence, so if there is a class action lawsuit, the $500,000 would be divided among the qualified plaintiffs. However, if the patient died or ended up in a persistent vegetative state due to a doctor’s actions, the amount of allowable damages rises to $1 million. It is possible to collect the higher cap without death or a vegetative state if a court finds not awarding the larger amount would result in a “manifest injustice” and the patient suffered a catastrophic injury. Catastrophic injuries include the following:
- permanent paralysis of an arm, leg or trunk, or amputation of an arm, hand, foot or leg;
- severe brain injuries that affect communication, motor function or information processing;
- second or third degree burns over 25 percent or more of a person’s body, or third burns of five percent or more to the face and hands;
- blindness; and
- loss of ability to procreate.
Speak to a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
A doctor’s negligence can cause physical and emotional injuries that may never fully heal. If you suffered an injury believed to be caused by lack of appropriate care by a doctor, talking with a medical malpractice lawyer will give you an opportunity to learn about how these cases work and a general idea about the strength of your case. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado bring years of experience to these cases and is available to assist you. Contact us to schedule your free consultation.