The two primary objectives of the medical malpractice liability system in America are to compensate victims for injuries sustained as a result of negligent medical care and to deter health care providers from being negligent in the care of their patients. However, in reality, the system sometimes fails in its first objective by failing to compensate patients adequately for the devastating consequences of medical negligence. There are several reasons why the U.S. medical liability law is not able to achieve its intended goals.
Insufficient Malpractice Insurance
Most physicians in the United States purchase malpractice insurance, a type of professional liability insurance, to cover the costs of defending a lawsuit as well as paying compensation to victims should negligence occur. The price of malpractice insurance is determined by the frequency of lawsuits and the size of settlements and awards. It can vary dramatically depending on geographical area and medical specialty. Surgeons and OB/GYNs typically pay the highest malpractice premiums and psychiatrists pay some of the lowest. A surgeon in California could pay twice as much malpractice premium as a surgeon in Minnesota. An internal medicine doctor may pay $35,000 annually while an obstetrician may pay $175,000 every year for malpractice coverage.
A problem for victims of medical negligence arises when the offending physician does not carry a sufficient amount of malpractice insurance. This means if an uninsured or under-insured physician is negligent in providing care to a patient, there simply may not be enough money to compensate the victim for financial losses (lost earnings, medical costs) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). It is noteworthy that Federal law does not require doctors to carry malpractice insurance. Only seven states (Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) specify minimum liability insurance.
The majority of states in America have placed a “cap” on the amount of compensation a victim can receive for damages suffered as a consequence of medical negligence. Most states limit the amount of non-economic damages (pain and suffering), but some states limit all types of compensation, including the cost of long-term medical care. Damage caps vary from state to state. For example, damage caps in the State of Ohio limit the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded following a successful medical malpractice lawsuit. This means regardless of how devastating the patient’s injury, the state law will place a limit on the compensation the victim will receive following a successful malpractice lawsuit.
Substantial Loss of Future Income
There are two main elements to the compensation awarded to victims of medical negligence:
- Economic (financial loss incurred from lost earnings and the cost of future medical care)
- Non-economic (pain and suffering and the impact of the injury on the patient’s ability to enjoy life)
When the victim of medical malpractice is an elderly person, retired individual, or disabled person, a substantial loss of future income cannot be established. Such victims may be unfairly denied adequate compensation. Interestingly, the lifetime costs of raising a child with a birth injury can be considerable due to medical treatment, therapy, special adaptive devices, home remodeling, and the need for supervised personal care.
The civil justice system may be performing poorly in compensating injured patients, but if you or someone you love is the victim of medical negligence, a seasoned malpractice attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve.