What money damages can I expect from a medical malpractice lawsuit?

If the doctor is found responsible (negligent) for medical damages to a patient, the patient will be compensated for the harm he or she has suffered. The compensation is called damages. Damage awards are either compensatory and/or punitive.

Compensatory Damages

The most common kind of damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits are compensatory. This is money paid for actual injury or loss. This includes medical and hospital bills, rehabilitation expenses, physical therapy, ambulance expenses, prescription drugs, nursing home care, domestic services,medical equipment, lost employment income, increased living expenses, and loss of future income. The latter is much more difficult to assess. If the doctor injured Bill Gates, the doctor will pay much more in compensation for lost earnings than if the injury was to someone who is poor or retired.

You can also recover damages for physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, inconvenience, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life and "loss of consortium" (the loss of company/love/relations with your spouse). Many states have set limits on the amount of damages available to injured patients in medical malpractice cases. So, pain and suffering for the same injury may be in the millions in Illinois, but will be $250,000 or less in a state that limits pain and suffering damages to $250,000.

Assessing Compensatory Damages

Putting a dollar amount on suffering is difficult for every party involved in a lawsuit. Some attorneys estimate pain and suffering damages using a formula based on the total of the other compensatory damages: compensatory damages x (a number from 3 - 10) – compensatory damages. The number you multiply by depends on the severity of the injury. For example, a minor injury would be a “3,” paralysis would be a “10.”

Suppose you go in for surgery and end up with a burn scar on your arm. Your medical expenses for the burn treatment are $2000. Because this is a relatively minor but permanent injury, you multiply $2,000 by 4 ($8,000) and subtract $2,000 to arrive at the pain and suffering estimate of $6,000.

Compensatory Damages Paid to Family Members

In addition to damages that are awarded to the injured patient, the patient’s family may recover compensation for loss of care, companionship, love and affection. If the medical malpractice victim dies, family members may be compensated for their wrongful death. Wrongful death damages may include medical and burial expenses, loss of income, emotional suffering, and loss of the deceased patient’s companionship and affection.

Punitive Damages

This is money that may be awarded to the patient in order to punish the doctor for his or her actions. This type of award is frequently difficult to obtain and rare in medical malpractice lawsuits unless the doctor acted in a willful, wanton or malicious way or was motivated by evil motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud.