How Much Is the Average Medical Malpractice Settlement?
By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Mar 15, 2023
The world of medical malpractice law is vast and varied, and the factors that go into settling each case are just as unique as the cases themselves. Nearly identical medical malpractice cases can have completely different outcomes depending on the jurisdiction, the facts underlying your potential claim and the extent and permanency of the injury. How much is the average medical malpractice settlement? The answer to that question varies as well.
A malpractice claim is often not just about money. Often clients are interested in seeing the doctor or hospital acknowledge harmful mistakes and agree to make changes to prevent them from happening again. But financial settlement are the norm and, in order to reach an informed settlement, you need to have an idea of what constitutes a fair award. For this reason, if you think you have been harmed by medical malpractice it is important that you hire a lawyer who is experienced in handling these cases and with whom you feel comfortable.
Types of Medical Malpractice and Common Settlement Ranges
The first thing to determine in any potential case is whether you were harmed by medical negligence. Not every bad medical outcome or even a medical error amounts to malpractice. To succeed in a medical malpractice case, your lawyer – working with appropriate experts – must prove that the treatment the patient received was negligent; that is that the treatment was below the standard of acceptable medical care under the circumstances. In addition, the plaintiff – the person bringing the lawsuit – has to prove that their injuries were caused by the medical negligence. And so, the strength of the proof of malpractice and the harm it caused will have a dramatic impact on your chances of winning your case. Another consideration is whether the your lawsuit would be subject to damages cap and the amount of medical malpractice insurance that the doctor or doctors who are sued carries as these factors can impact the potential settlement.
Types of Medical Malpractice
The spectrum of medical malpractice is incredibly broad, covering anything between misdiagnosis by a single doctor to system-wide institutional malpractice that leads to a failure to timely diagnose and treat a patient. We’ve gone into detail regarding the types of medical malpractice and negligence before, but in short, if a medical professional owed you a specific duty of care and their failure to uphold that duty led to significant damages or wrongful death, you may have a case of malpractice.
Some of the most common types of malpractice claims include:
- Surgical and anesthesia errors
- Injuries to a mother or child during labor and delivery
- Delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis
Typical Medical Malpractice Settlements
Just as there is no one typical medical malpractice case, there is no hard-and-fast rule that lays out what a typical settlement looks like. An experienced medical malpractice attorney such as those at Cohen, Placitella & Roth will be able to look at your case and help you gauge your chances of success (as well as type of recovery you may expect).
Most malpractice cases are settled outside of the courtroom. The litigation process, during which both sides through written discovery and taking the testimony of parties and witnesses, is designed to do two things. First, the rules are designed to prevent trial by ambush. Parties are duty bound to respond fully and fairly to the other side’s discovery requests. Second, after all of this discovery is completed – including the exchange of the reports of the experts who support he claims and defenses in the case – the parties will have the information they need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their case or defense and may begin to discuss the out of court settlement of the case to avoid what they perceive as the risks of trying the case and letting a jury decide. While a settlement provides certainty, it must be a fair one and frankly, may only be achieved by being fully prepared to try the case in a courtroom.
Damages recoverable in medical malpractice lawsuit include compensatory damages, such as lost earnings and earning capacity, past and future medical bills, pain and suffering and loss of life’s pleasures. Rarely a plaintiff may also be able to collect punitive damages in a medical malpractice case. In a cases where punitive damages become a factor, settlements and verdicts can be higher. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average medical malpractice settlement in the United States is $329,565. However, every case is unique and the settlement of a particular case will depend on the strength of the proof of negligence and the damages that resulted.
Types of Damages Available in Medical Malpractice Cases
There are three primary categories of damages in a medical malpractice claim: economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages. Every state treats these differently and some states place damage caps on one or more of these categories.
What to Know about Types of Damages Available in Medical Malpractice Cases
Economic damages (also called compensatory damages) are often the easiest type of damage to prove in a malpractice claim. These can include medical bills, lost wages, and travel costs (if you had to travel to fix the issue). You should keep detailed records of each of these costs, as the more evidence you have on hand to prove your economic damages, the easier it is to recover them. If your injuries or disability require future treatment, therapies, equipment or such things as home modifications, your lawyer working with your health care providers and other experts will develop a cost for the future health care and related needs. In addition, lost wages can be proven by an analysis of your earning history and future intentions and how, if you’ve been disabled from returning to work, that impacts your future earnings all of which are compensable.
Noneconomic damages (also called general damages) are harder to quantify. They can include compensation for physical pain and emotional suffering, a reduced quality of life, inconvenience and where the plaintiff is married, loss of consortium or the interruption of the marital relationship.
Finally, in rare cases a malpractice claim may involve some form of punitive damages. Judges and juries issue these damages to punish a defendant if their conduct rises to the level of intentional or reckless misconduct. Punitive damages are meant as a deterrent against repeating reckless conduct that led to the lawsuit.
Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases
Thirty-three states impose damage caps in medical malpractice lawsuits and this of course could impact settlements. However, most states do not place a cap on economic damages: if you can prove that you suffered a financial loss due to the malpractice, you can seek restitution for that loss. Thankfully, Pennsylvania does not place a cap on economic or non-economic damages.
In states that place damage caps on general and punitive damages, these caps are generally placed at a multiple of the amount of compensatory damages.
Factors Influencing the Value of a Medical Malpractice Settlement
Personal injury and wrongful death trials have a lot of moving parts, especially when they involve malpractice. The value of your claim may end up hinging on the specific nature of your injury and/or the strength of the evidence showing that a breach of the standard of care occurred.
How a Settlement Claim is Calculated
The first thing that an experienced attorney will evaluate when considering a medical malpractice settlement is the strength of the evidence that malpractice occurred and caused damages and assess the amount of those damages. A reasonable starting point for assessing the potential damages are the economic losses that can be proven including past and future medical expenses and past and future earnings loss. The intangible damages, such as pain and suffering and loss of life’s pleasures are more difficult to assess with precision but your lawyer should work with you, your family and other witnesses to understand the impact your injuries and disabilities have had.
All of these factors are involved in negotiating a settlement. A medical malpractice lawyer will also examine previous cases that are similar to yours, jury verdicts in the jurisdiction where the case is pending and, perhaps, whether anyone sued these medical professionals before?
Once your lawyer understands the strength of the proofs of negligence, causation and damages, they we can develop a strategy for negotiating a settlement. This amount usually includes damages as well as any court costs, expert witness fees, and other fees associated with a lawsuit.
Factors that Influence Value in a Medical Malpractice Settlement
Many things factor into the value of a medical malpractice case, but there are two things that impact the value of every malpractice settlement in the United States.
First, there is the extent of your injuries and strength of your evidence. Second, is the identity of the defendant. If you’re going up against an individual doctor who has the minimum required malpractice insurance, you may end up with a lower recovery simply due to the small amount of insurance coverage. Suing a major hospital system for institutional malpractice may result in a higher recovery, but the burden of proof also tends to be raised along with the profile of the case.
Other factors that can influence the value of a malpractice settlement include:
- Medical malpractice statutes in the area
- Whether your case settles or goes to trial
- Whether you bear partial fault for your damages
Timeline for Obtaining a Medical Malpractice Settlement
If you’ve read this far, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that even the most straightforward medical malpractice claim isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. These cases are incredibly complex and can take years to settle.
Average Timeline for a Medical Malpractice Case
In general, it takes between two and three years for a malpractice case to settle. Factors that may influence the timeline of your case include:
- The complexity of the case
- The amount you are suing for
- Whether you’re suing for personal injury or wrongful death
- Whether you had preexisting risk factors
In some personal injury and malpractice cases, the defendant offers a settlement to avoid the risk of going to trial. If they do not, or if a settlement offer is too low, the case will go to trial. A trial verdict tends to be larger than a settlement, but it also comes with substantial risk that you will not prevail.
Making the First Steps in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
If you’ve suffered from a doctor’s malpractice, you may not know where to turn. That’s where our team of legal experts comes in. We’ve earned our reputation for life-changing outcomes through our tenacity, experience, and fresh strategic perspective. Our goal is to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s easy. Call CPR Law at (888) 560-7189 today to schedule your free consultation.
Cohen, Placitella & Roth Law Offices take on—and win—the fights that others think can’t be won. Our team of lawyers has earned a distinguished reputation for achieving life-changing outcomes by combining decades of experience, tenacity and fresh strategic perspectives to each case we undertake. We champion and seek justice for our clients guided by a shared goal of doing what’s right and making a positive lasting impact on their lives.