Medical Malpractice Payouts by State: A Comparison Guide

Harry M. Roth, Esq.

Oct 15, 2022

Whether it’s a simple misdiagnosis or a catastrophic birth injury, medical malpractice can leave you with a burden too heavy to carry on your own. In situations like these, you can potentially pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit to obtain compensation for economic and noneconomic damages. If you’re thinking you may have a malpractice suit, your expectations should take into account where you live or where the injury occurred.

Medical malpractice recoveries by state may differ from national averages for several reasons. Understanding state laws and regional trends can give you a better idea of your anticipated maximum payout before you file.

Factors That Impact Medical Malpractice Payouts

A medical malpractice payout can be very difficult to pursue successfully. Even when you have gathered all the necessary evidence to prove your case, other elements will still affect your final recovery.

Your compensation should cover expenses associated with your injury, including past and future medical bills, new medical equipment or prescriptions, and lost income and benefits. You may also receive noneconomic damages for such things as physical pain and emotional suffering. To ensure you get proper compensation, your lawyer will negotiate with insurers based on factors that include:

  • The nature and extent of malpractice
  • The impact of your injuries
  • Anticipated future treatment and care
  • Your age
  • Your claim’s supporting evidence
  • Expert testimony

How Strong Is Your Claim?

The strength of the evidence and the significance of your injury strongly correlate with the size of a jury verdict or settlement. The stronger the case and the more impactful the injury, the higher the recovery is likely to be.

If you suspect medical malpractice, you can strengthen your case by keeping thorough records. This includes both medical records, such as prescriptions and diagnostic images, and personal records, sometimes it is helpful to keep notes that detail your physical and emotional burden and other non-monetary losses.

It is also important to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer promptly to help assure a timely investigation of your potential case. Your medical malpractice attorney will help you develop your potential case by carefully reviewing your medical records, identifying witnesses and consulting with expert physician witnesses. Experts are necessary to evaluate the treatment provided and whether that care violated the standard of care, as well as determine if the negligent treatment caused harm and the seriousness of your injuries. Experienced malpractice attorneys work with well-credentialed, experienced doctors to serve as medical experts for cases like these.

How Settlement Amounts Are Determined in Medical Malpractice Cases

Experienced medical malpractice attorneys know that preparing each case for trial is the best way for cases to get settled out of court. A fair settlement assures the client of certainty of outcome and eliminates the risks of trial faced in even the best of cases. Lawyers and insurers negotiate based on the strengths of the expert support of the case and the jury verdict exposure each party faces at trial.

The negotiating parties analyze past, current, and future damages, including economic expenses such as lost earnings and, importantly, the strength of the evidence of medical malpractice. Both parties consult with physicians, economists, and actuaries to analyze their settlement positions. If you cannot reach a settlement, your case will proceed to court for trial. If the jury finds the defendant responsible for medical negligence, the jury will decide the amount you receive in damages.

The jury is presented with evidence from expert witnesses regarding the need for and costs associated with necessary items like medical treatment, therapies, and equipment, as well as the loss of past and future wages. The jury will also hear from the patient, family, friends, or other witnesses about the impact the injuries have had on the patient and his or her family. At the close of the evidence, the judge instructs the jury about what factors to consider in arriving at a verdict.

A judge may also intervene in the final amount, especially if there are legal caps in your state.

How Medical Malpractice Payouts Differ by State

Where you live may have a great impact on your final award. Different states have a wide range of medical malpractice settlement averages due to state laws and other factors that may limit recoveries in these cases.

There are no federal laws regulating medical malpractice payouts, but many states have caps or limits on the amount a plaintiff may receive. For example, Colorado employs an umbrella cap that limits payouts to $1 million. In total, six states cap both economic and non-economic damages, and 24 states cap noneconomic damages only. The remaining 20 states have no caps. In states with no caps, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the average payout tends to be much higher.

The States with the Highest and Lowest Medical Malpractice Payouts

Yearly statistics from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) show the total amount of damages paid out in each state. While these numbers do not reflect individual cases, they can give you an idea of how the payout differs across the United States. The states with the highest medical malpractice payouts in 2022* include the following:

  • New York — $551 million
  • Florida — $382 million
  • Pennsylvania — $295 million
  • Illinois — $222 million
  • New Jersey — $215 million

By contrast, these are the states with the lowest payouts:

  • Alaska — $8 million
  • South Dakota — $7 million
  • Vermont — $6 million’
  • Wyoming — $2 million
  • North Dakota — $1 million

*Figures are rounded to the nearest million and adjusted for inflation.

Why Some States Have Higher Medical Malpractice Payouts Than Others

In addition to state laws that limit damages, regional differences contribute to higher medical malpractice payouts in certain states. For example, economic and racial disparities between regions could impact the anticipated lost income. The cost of healthcare also differs between states.

States with the Most Medical Malpractice Payouts

The NPDB reports there have been over 50,000 medical malpractice claims in the last five years. However, these cases are not equally distributed across the country. Some states see over 1,000 cases each year, while others total in the teens. This could affect the experience level of your attorney as well as the amount of your final settlement.

The States Where Medical Malpractice Suits Are Most and Least Common

On average, the more people there are in a state, the more medical malpractice cases there will be. That’s why the most populated states tend to top the lists in statistics like these. According to the NPDB, New York, California, and Florida had the highest number of medical malpractice suits between 2018 and 2022. North Dakota reported the fewest suits, with only 40 cases during the same period.

Factors That Contribute to the Incidence of Medical Malpractice Suits

One factor that contributes to malpractice claims in certain states is variations in state law and the evidence required to prove a medical malpractice claim. Some states impose a very high burden on proving medical malpractice claims, which can result in fewer successful cases with lower settlement amounts. Likewise, some states impose very short statutes of limitation for medical malpractice cases, which can bar valid claims before they can even be filed.

Physician specialty may also have an impact on the incidence of medical malpractice suits. For instance, obstetricians/gynecologists and surgeons are the specialists most likely to be sued for malpractice. These types of doctors are more frequently involved in higher-risk procedures that lead to personal injury or wrongful death. Solo practitioners are also more likely to face medical malpractice charges and physician discipline.

The States That Are Most Accommodating of Medical Malpractice Suits

States with no legal caps on damages are generally the most accommodating of medical malpractice suits. These states include the following:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Average Medical Malpractice Payouts by State

Because every medical malpractice case is unique, it’s impossible to predict the final settlement so you shouldn’t file your claim with a specific dollar amount in mind. However, averages and precedents can give you an idea of what to expect.

The Average Medical Malpractice Settlement in the United States

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2017, the average medical malpractice settlement was around $330,000. In court cases, juries commonly award closer to $1 million.

Keep in mind that while juries tend to award more in damages than an out-of-court settlement, taking your case to trial is risky. According to Philip Peters in an article for Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, physicians win between 80 and 90 percent of medical malpractice cases. A settlement guarantees a speedy payout.

The Range of Medical Malpractice Settlements in the United States

The range of an average malpractice settlements depends mostly on the severity of the injury. Your recovery time could be a good indicator of the range you may expect.

  • 30 days: $0–$10,000
  • Fewer than six months: $10,000–$30,000
  • One year: $30,000–$100,000
  • Longer than one year: $100,000–$500,000

A malpractice claim that warrants damages exceeding $1 million is called a “catastrophic claim.” These types of claims are rare but more common in the gynecology, neurology, pathology, and pediatric fields.

Who Pays the Settlement in Medical Malpractice Suits?

In most cases, insurance companies pay the settlement in medical malpractice suits. Hospitals, clinics, and surgical centers generally require employed physicians to carry medical malpractice insurance in addition to the facility’s policies.

In some states, doctors who own their practices do not legally require medical malpractice insurance. Many still choose to get coverage, but those that go without may be personally liable for medical malpractice suits. In either scenario, the amount of coverage a doctor or hospital has will not affect your settlement.


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