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Noneconomic damages caps in medical malpractice cases

In medical malpractice cases, noneconomic damages are an important but controversial issue. Such damages encompass losses that cannot be directly monetized, such as loss of a limb, trauma, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship. In tort reform, noneconomic damages are often capped so that juries don’t give excessive awards. A recent medical malpractice case out of Wisconsin highlights how jury awards can exceed the cap.

The case involves a 53-year-old married wife and mother who had her limbs amputated after contracting a Strep A infection which went unnoticed and resulted in septic shock. In total, the woman and her husband were awarded a total of $25.3 million; $15 million of the award was for pain and suffering while $1.5 million was for the husband’s loss of companionship.

Wisconsin law limits such noneconomic damages to $750,000, and so it is highly likely, commentators say, that the case will be appealed. Over $8.2 million of the award was for past and anticipated health care costs. Because these are not subject to caps, these are not going to be at issue. The rest will be, though.

Under Michigan’s current law, the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases are limited to no more than $280,000 except in certain situations where the damage is particularly significant. In such cases, the noneconomic damages are capped at $500,000.

Noneconomic damages are an important aspect of medical malpractice litigation, and patients and their attorneys need to know how to present a case in such a way that they receive what is due to them.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Jury awards Milwaukee woman $25.3 million in medical malpractice case,” Cary Spivak, July 7, 2014.Michigan Department of Treasury, “Limitation on Noneconomic Damages and Product Liability Determination on Economic Damages,” Accessed July 11, 2014. 

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