Medical malpractice laws governing hospital and doctor lawsuits vary by state. While the general principles required for a medical malpractice lawsuit are consistent nationwide, there are differences in the time limits for filing a claim, types of negligence requirements, and caps on award amounts for certain types of damages.
The most important law that varies by state is the statute of limitations. This is the time limit a patient or their family members has to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. Usually this will be between 1-3 years from the date of the injury, or discovery of the injury.
Once this time limit has expired, no medical malpractice claim may be brought, so it's important that injured patients be aware of the time limit in their state.
Some states have placed a cap on non-economic damages, which limits how much money a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can get for non-economic compensation, such as pain and suffering.
The main driver placing caps on damages are the lobbyists working for the medical malpractice insurance companies. Obviously it is in their best interest to have legislation past that limits the amount of money they will have to pay out to injured patients
Some states, such as Alabama, have found it unconstitutional to place a cap on damages, while others, such as California and Texas have placed such caps.
The insurance companies claim that high lawsuit pat outs force them to raise their premiums, thus increasing the cost of healthcare overall. However, many doctors in state that have caps have seen no decrease in their premium costs after caps had been implemented.
There is an ongoing debate regarding the economic value of damages caps, and the constitutionality of such caps. Many experts agree that the caps do not have any significant impact on the cost of healthcare, but rather function to increase the profits of the medical malpractice insurance companies.
While the obvious impact on victims of medical malpractice is a reduced award amount, the other issue is that the caps make it difficult for medical malpractice lawyers to take certain cases.
In cases where the victims economic damages are not large enough to warrant a lawsuit, an attorney can use non-economic damages to make the case happen. However, if there is a cap in place, medical malpractice attorneys often have to turn away good cases due to the cost.
This fact impacts cases of birth injury the most, because, in the eyes of the law, a baby is only worth the amount of money required for medical costs. Because infants have no income, the cannot receive damages for the lost income or future earnings. This leaves only medical expenses and pain and suffering.
If a cap is placed on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, then the case is significantly diminished in value and may not be feasible.
Additionally, there are medical malpractice laws that pertain to military doctors that, in many cases, limit a patient in their ability to sue for medical negligence.
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