We have been hearing a lot of about damage caps in the news lately, especially with the November elections and California's Proposition 46. Many Californians will head to the polls to vote for an adjustment on the state's damage caps. Currently in California, non economic damages (damages for a lifetime of pain, for example) are limited to $250,000 per person.
Let's take a look at the damage caps in our local area, in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
First, medical malpractice damages caps are limits placed on the amount of money (or compensation) a person can receive in their medical malpractice lawsuit after they have proved that a hospital, HMO or physician did not follow establish patient safety rules and caused harm. Non economic damages include: pain and suffering, and losses that are not linked to medical bills and loss of wages due to inability to work.
Currently in DC, there are no medical malpractice damage caps. Meaning, there is no limit on the amount of compensation a person can receive for non economic damages once they prove that the hospital, HMO or doctor was negligent (in other words, they did not follow established patient safety rules).
Maryland, has a medical malpractice damages cap on non economic damages. Currently Maryland's cap is at $740,000 (on claims that do not involve wrongful death) and $943,750 (on claims that involve wrongful death with two or more beneficiaries).
Virginia's medical malpractice damages cap is often called a hard cap. It is a limit on the total recovery, including economic damages, that is set based on the year the malpractice happened. It's currently $2.15 million. This means that if you suffer anoxic brain damage because of anesthesia malpractice and your lifetime medical care costs are $10 million dollars, the most you can recover is $2.15 million.
If a jury were to award a plaintiff an amount above both Maryland's and Virginia's caps, the judge would adjust the verdict accordingly.
So consider this. Say you went in for that minor surgery in Virginia and thankfully, and all went well. But you were negligent when backing out of the hospital parking lot and ran over your anesthesiologist, causing him anoxic brain damage where he needed $10 million in future medical care.
How much could he sue you for?
$10 million (and more for his lifetime of pain and suffering). You see, the cap on damages only applies to medical malpractice cases.
Is that fair?