Medical Malpractice Damage Caps and the Dangers of Tort Reform

A medical mistake can change your life forever. Victims of medical malpractice often face a lifetime of lost income, high medical and nursing bills, and immense grief.

Unfortunately, if the malpractice occurred in Virginia, no matter how significant your damages are or how shocking the doctor’s negligence, you’ll face a damage cap. Keep reading to learn more about the Commonwealth’s medical malpractice damage cap and the dangers of tort reform.

Virginia’s Medical Malpractice Damage Cap Covers All of a Victim’s Damages

A medical malpractice victim can suffer a variety of damages that include:

  • Economic damages: The financial losses related to a medical provider’s negligence, including medical bills, lost income, and other costs
  • Non-economic damages: Compensation for the patient’s pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, and other intangible losses
  • Punitive damages: An award that aims to penalize a medical provider or facility for highly reckless or offensive behavior

Unlike most states, Virginia’s medical malpractice laws limit a victim’s right to receive all these forms of compensation.

If your damages are very high, the Virginia damage cap will prevent a full recovery of your economic losses, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. In comparison, neighboring West Virginia’s medical malpractice damage cap only applies to non-economic damages, and a victim can receive full compensation for their financial losses.

By 2031, Virginia Law Will Cap Medical Malpractice Damages at $3 Million With No Exceptions

Virginia’s medical malpractice damage cap statute includes annual cap increases until 2031. Initially, the Commonwealth’s damage cap was set at $1.5 million. Under current law, this amount increases each year by $50,000 until it reaches a $3 million ceiling in 2031. Recent annual damage caps include:

  • July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017: $2.25 million
  • July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018: $2.3 million
  • July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019: $2.35 million
  • July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020: $2.4 million

Your damages will be limited by the cap that applied at the time of the medical malpractice, not the one that applied when you file your lawsuit. So, if a doctor committed medical malpractice on June 30, 2018, you won’t be able to receive more than $2.3 million in damages. If the same doctor made the same mistake one week later, your damage cap would increase to $2.35 million.

RELATED ARTICLE: Do I Still Need to Pay My Medical Bills if I Think That I’m a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

The damage cap applies to your entire claim, even if several providers and facilities were at fault. For example, suppose a hospital knew about a surgeon’s substance abuse issue and let them continue operating on patients. During an operation, the doctor harms a patient. That patient might have separate claims against both the doctor and the hospital for negligence. However, if the surgery occurred on July 1, 2018, the victim could receive a maximum of $2.35 million across all claims, not $2.35 million from each party.

Health Care Lobbies Demand Tort Reform, But Evidence Shows It Doesn’t Save Money or Improve Access to Care

Doctors, health care lobbyists, and insurance companies have argued for years that tort reform — which includes caps on damages for medical malpractice — contributes to the greater good. However, researchers have continually debunked their claims with concrete evidence. Each time the medical and insurance industries see their arguments dismantled, they pivot to a new claim.

RELATED ARTICLE: Medical Malpractice Rates: Don’t Believe the Hype

For example, pro-tort reform groups have incorrectly argued that medical malpractice lawsuits and high insurance rates force physicians out of practice, which they say reduces community access to health care and increases the cost of care. However, research into the issue has repeatedly shown the following:

  • Damage caps and tort reform do not cut down on how frequently doctors order tests, diagnostic studies, and “defensive medicine.”
  • Tort reform does not reduce the number of so-called “frivolous” lawsuits.
  • Medical malpractice insurance premiums did not fall significantly in states that applied damage caps and other tort reform principles.

“Tort reform” is about saving insurance companies money, and it’s succeeded in doing so wherever lawmakers have implemented tort reform measures. In fact, insurance companies typically see higher profit margins in their medical malpractice business than from other insurance segments.

Virginia Medical Malpractice Victims Need Skilled Legal Representation

Medical malpractice claims are among the most complicated types of personal injury cases. You must meet strict procedural requirements, carefully evaluate your medical evidence, and present a compelling case to the jury. These issues alone are too difficult for the average person to handle without expert help.

RELATED ARTICLE: Proving Medical Malpractice: Why Experts Matter for Your Lawsuit

However, in addition to these requirements, Virginia medical malpractice victims must also identify the exact date when each incident of malpractice occurred. In some cases, a difference in a few days can result in a $50,000 increase in the damage cap.

At Phelan Petty, we carefully examine our clients’ claims and consult with medical experts who can help us understand exactly when malpractice occurred. Our focus is always on getting our clients the compensation and justice they deserve.

Phelan Petty: Richmond’s Medical Malpractice Specialists

The medical malpractice team at Phelan Petty handles some of the most complicated negligence claims in Virginia. We are tireless advocates for our clients, and we use sophisticated legal strategies to identify negligent medical providers and facilities and demand justice. To get a free, no-risk assessment of your case from an experienced medical malpractice attorney, schedule your initial consultation online or call us at 804-980-7100.

References

Cohen, S. (2015, February 27). Tort reform hasn’t worked. Observer. Retrieved from https://observer.com/2015/02/tort-reform-hasnt-worked/

Va. Code § 8.01-581.15. (2011). Retrieved from https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter21.1/section8.01-581.15/

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.