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Recent tragedy highlights Michigan's noneconomic damages cap

Can you put a dollar value on pain and suffering? Michigan law does.

As we've discussed before, Michigan law places a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. The law defines "noneconomic damages" to include, among other things, pain, suffering, physical impairment and loss of society and companionship. About half of the states have similar caps, a common component of tort reform.

Michigan's cap is adjusted each year for inflation, but is still well under $1 million, even for the most severe of cases.

The limitations of the cap came to light in a recent Detroit example of parents facing the tragic loss of their baby. According to WXYZ, a jury awarded a family $19 million, but the cap limited the award to $780,000.

Sabie Nash was diagnosed with respiratory distress syndrome after being born premature, and was finally sent home after being hospitalized for two months. But when the baby had breathing problems again later, an emergency room doctor sent her home before the results of an X-ray came back revealing signs of severe pneumonia. The family wasn't notified of the results right away, and the baby died within two days of returning home.

The jury's verdict was unanimous to award the family $19 million, but the resulting award after the cap will be only about 5% of that.

There's little families can do to work around the cap, aside from lobbying state legislators to change it, but medical malpractice attorneys can ensure that pain and suffering from medical malpractice is compensated for as much as possible under state law.

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