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California medical malpractice damages: Economic vs. non-economic

You've probably heard the term "medical malpractice," but even if you have experienced it, you might be uncertain just what it entails. There are many different types of medical errors, ranging from dangerous to fatal. "Mistakes happen" is almost never acceptable when your life or the life of a loved one is at stake, especially not when these mistakes were avoidable had the medical staff followed the precautions and procedures established to prevent just such dangerous or even potentially fatal errors.

Like every individual is unique, so is every instance of malpractice. If you are unsure whether you are a victim of medical malpractice or negligence, an experienced California medical malpractice attorney can help investigate your case, discuss whether going to court and pursuing compensation is in your best interests, and determine your chances for receiving damages from a successfully litigated case.

What are "damages"?

A lot of confusion exists around the term "damages" in regards to medical liability and how much compensation victims are entitled to receive. There are three basic types of damages:

  • Economic damages: This type of compensation encompasses all verifiable monetary losses, ranging from past and future medical expenses, loss of property, loss of employment, and past and future earnings, and more.
  • Non-economic damages: This type of compensation is more subjective, covering non-monetary losses like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.
  • Punitive damages: These damages are not awarded to compensate for any loss, but rather are solely for the purpose of punishment, and they are used to deter future intentional or reckless behavior.

While economic damages are fairly straightforward, non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify. It's hard to put a price on things like your quality of life, mental suffering or loss of companionship, as many would consider these as priceless. However, while nearly everyone agrees that victims of medical errors deserve compensation for a decrease in the quality of their lives due to substandard care, California has placed a "damage cap" to limit non-economic damages payouts to $250,000.

Why cap non-economic damages?

Supposedly, this $250,000 cap on non-economic damages is, at least in part, to keep medical liability insurance premiums from skyrocketing, which could prevent physicians from then passing the cost on to their patients. It is allegedly also to help ensure access of care doesn't diminish. For instance, if a doctor cannot afford to pay insurance premiums, he or she might stop performing high-risk procedures, such as delivering infants, and thus, it might be harder for a patient to get the treatment he or she needs.

All this reasoning is, of course, little consolation to you if you or a loved one has suffered at the hands of a negligent physician. But at least a California medical malpractice attorney can help you pursue justice and fight for the full amount of compensation that you need and deserve.

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