The injuries patients sustain from medical mistakes can be extremely serious and inflict long-term or even fatal harm. When you consider medical expenses, loss of income, and the emotional ramifications of a medical malpractice-related injury or complication, it can mean hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in damages.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s tort laws are victim-friendly. They provide a legal means for people to recover their losses when they are harmed by others’ wrongdoing. The types of damages that are compensable for victims and the overall amount to which they are entitled varies from case to case. Below, we discuss some of the basic types of damages Pennsylvania deems reimbursable in a medical malpractice case. For information or claim estimates for your particular case, contact a Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney.
What exactly are “damages”?
In legal terminology, damages are monetary awards that the law imposes to compensate a victim for her injuries and losses after another’s breach of duty harmed her. In other words, damages is the money you get to reimburse you for the harm that has been done to you.
Damages in a medical malpractice case can be much higher than those awarded in civil cases. There are two broad categories of damages that can come into play in a medical malpractice case.
- Compensatory – Also referred to as actual damages, compensatory damages are awarded to victims to compensate them for their actual injuries or losses. Compensatory damages comprise two sub-categories: economic damages and non-economic damages, which will discuss in more detail in the following sections.
- Punitive – Not all states allow victims to collect punitive damages, but Pennsylvania does. Punitive damages are awarded to victims not to compensate them for their injuries, per se, but rather to punish defendants for gross wrongdoing and to discourage them from further wrongdoing in the future. Not all medical malpractice cases include punitive damages. Your lawyer will be able to discern whether or not punitive damage awards are probable for your case.
What types of economic damages can I recover?
Economic damages, also referred to as special damages, are the tangible, quantifiable expenses you have sustained because of your injury. Because these types of damages can be calculated using hard evidence such as bills, receipts, and paystubs, calculating the economic damages for a medical malpractice case is a relatively straightforward process.
Essentially, nearly any expense you have incurred because of your injury, such as medical bills, are compensable in a medical malpractice case. Below are a just a few examples.
- Medical expenses, including emergency care, current and future treatments and surgeries, prescriptions, medical devices and prosthetics, second opinions, specialist care, and follow-ups
- Rehabilitation, physical therapy, and occupational therapy
- Attendant and in-home care
- Transportation and lodging expenses incurred while seeking medical care
- Loss of current and future wages
- Loss of earning capacity and loss of promotion
- Disability, disfigurement, and scarring
- Cost of renovating your home to accommodate your disability, e.g., making your house wheelchair-accessible
- Cost of hiring people to help perform your home-related duties, such as yardwork
Tallying your damages is a complicated procedure that requires a lawyer’s help. The amount of damages you are entitled to varies with the negligent behavior. For example, if a doctor failed to diagnose your disease, your illness can become much worse, which lead you to incur more medical expenses. Another example is if a doctor leaves a surgical sponge inside your body after surgery. The site could become infected and cause you take time off work and/or incur more medical expenses.
What types of non-economic damages can I recover?
In addition to economic and possibly punitive damages, you might also be entitled to receive non-economic damages, also called general damages, if you win your medical malpractice case. Non-economic damages are the intangible, emotional or psychological harms you have sustained because of the medical mistake. Because there is no innate dollar value on a victim’s pain and suffering, calculating general damages can pose somewhat of a challenge.
The final damage award for these types of damages are up to the insurers’ or courts’ discretion and are often subject to argument. After carefully appraising your case and the extent to which you have been affected by your injury, your lawyer will be able to estimate how much in non-economic damages to ask the insurer or courts to award you for your emotional harms.
Below are a few elements of damage that might be compensable in medical malpractice suit in Pennsylvania.
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Affected relationships
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of affection
- Decreased life expectancy
- Fear of future injuries
- Mental disorders, phobias, and complexes
Cases such as wrong site or wrong patient surgeries can cause much pain and suffering for the victim. If a doctor amputates the wrong leg, or the wrong body part on the wrong person, the victim’s life will change completely. The emotional toll this can take on a person can affect the money a victim is awarded.
Is there a limit to how much I can receive?
Some states place a cap on how much victims can recover in a medical malpractice claim. This is not the case in Pennsylvania. In this state, the statutes do not place any limit to the amount of compensatory damages you can receive. You can fully recover your losses, and, in legal terms, “be made whole.”
However, there are certain times when the courts might cap your damages, specifically when awarding punitive damages. While there is no current legislation that solidifies a cap for punitive damages in Pennsylvania (historically, bills proposing damage caps have been quickly booted), the courts still have the authority to reduce an award if it the court considers it excessive and exorbitant.
How much is my medical malpractice claim worth?
There is no one-size fits all formula for calculating the value of a claim. Each case is unique. Numerous factors affect victims’ settlement awards for medical malpractice claims, such as:
- The amount of your economic damages
- How greatly you were emotionally, physically, psychologically, and psychosocially affected by your injuries
- Your age and life expectancy, and even the tendencies of the particular judge or jury presiding over your case. If the courts find you partially at fault for your injuries, your shared liability will likewise affect your final award.
The caliber and efficacy of the lawyer you select to represent you can also greatly impact the outcome of your case. In order to maximize your settlement, you want to select a lawyer that has substantial experience handling medical malpractice cases similar to yours, that is determined and tenacious, and that has impeccable attention to detail. This last quality is of notable importance because the more detailed your attorney is in assessing and calculating your damages, the higher your potential award will be.
After thoroughly reviewing your case, your attorney can tell you which types of damages you will qualify and the approximate value of your claim.
What are my first steps to filing a medical malpractice claim?
Medical malpractice cases require solid investigation, well-organized and thorough evidence, and good case preparation – all of which necessitates professional legal counsel. Therefore, your first step to taking legal action is to speak to a Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney. Your lawyer will review your case, make sure it is viable, and then explain the next step in the legal process.
In the meantime, you can start gathering all of your bills and receipts, as well as your medical records and prognoses or treatment notes from your doctors to share with your attorney. If there are any other key pieces of info that may useful in your case, such as proof of lost wages, witnesses’ contact information, etc., then compile all of that too and put in a file to give your lawyer.
If you are in need of a medical malpractice attorney in Pennsylvania, consider Cordisco & Saile LLC. Our firm has a long history of successful cases; we have secured millions of dollars in damage for our clients. Contact us today for a free consultation at 215-791-8911.