Victims of medical malpractice not only suffer from physical and emotional injury, but crippling financial burdens as a result of their injuries. The need to pursue litigation and recoup the financial losses is an urgent and necessary need. However, because medical malpractice law varies from state-to-state, it is paramount that victims find an experienced medical malpractice attorney. This is especially helpful in a state like North Carolina, which has enacted medical malpractice damages caps to make it more difficult for victims to receive compensation.
Types of Damages Available
The compensatory damages available to victims of medical malpractice are divided into two main categories: economic and noneconomic.
Economic damages are fairly straightforward to understand and often easier to prove as they are strictly financial in nature. Medical bills, lost income or wages, lost earning capacity (meaning you lost some or all of your ability to perform your job and/or earn money due to your injuries), and any other financial loss related to the injury you suffered from the medical malpractice are all types of economic damages.
Non-economic damages are harder to define, but is the category of damages that a jury often will award financial recovery based on the nature of the case. Examples of non-economic damages include pain and suffering, scarring, loss of use of a body part, emotional distress, or loss of companionship (any loss suffered by a spouse or child). While North Carolina is not a state that accepts “fright or fear” as a compensable damage, depression or post-traumatic stress related to the injury are types of emotional distress for which a North Carolina jury can award damages.
In the case of the death of a loved one caused by medical malpractice, the estate, spouse, or parent may pursue economic damages and noneconomic damages that include funeral expenses, economic loss, and loss of companionship. The estate may recover the pain and suffering by the victim and the medical expenses.
Finally, in cases of extreme negligence, it is possible to pursue and recover punitive damages. A jury awards punitive damages in cases where they feel the need to punish the defendant for egregiously wrongful or dangerous behavior. The purpose of punitive damages is to send a message to the defendants and other similarly situated medical providers from engaging in behavior that may result in significant and unforgivable harm to a victim.
North Carolina’s Cap on Damages
Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of the states that has enacted a medical malpractice damages cap. This means, regardless of what the jury awards, there is a limit on what money a victim of medical malpractice may receive (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.19). In any medical malpractice action, the victim’s non-economic damages shall not exceed $500,000 against all of the defendants for a claim arising out of the same service. The cap is pegged to the consumer price index so it will account for inflation and adjust accordingly. Punitive damages are also capped at three times the amount of total damages or $250,000 (whichever is greater) (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-25).
However, the cap does not apply if the jury finds the following: 1) the victim suffered disfigurement, loss of use of a body part, permanent injury, or death; and 2) the defendant’s actions (or failure to act) were committed with reckless disregard for others, grossly negligent, fraudulent, intentional, or with malice.
Your Next Steps
The complexities of medical malpractice laws and the North Carolina cap on damages makes it incredibly important that you hire an experienced attorney who can present your case in the most favorable light to the jury. Such an attorney can help you convince the jury to award the maximum amount of damages for which you are entitled.