What type of money or damages can you recover in a Texas medical malpractice case?
Texas tort reform caps do not apply to all types of damages and jury awards in medical negligence cases
I was in Central Texas yesterday to meet with a client and his family about a medical malpractice lawsuit that we recently filed for him. This young man went to the hospital for what he was told was a simple surgical procedure. While in the operating room, something went terribly wrong at the hands of the surgeon. It changed his life and he will never be able to work again or enjoy the active lifestyle that he used to have.
During a conversation with the family, we talked about how his injuries had impacted his life. They were more concerned about his loss of enjoyment of life as opposed to his inability to work and medical bills. After all, he has a hard time walking, so he cannot hunt or fish anymore, has difficulty safely playing with his toddler child, and can no longer speak normally. In my experience in meeting with thousands of families, these concerns always seem to be on the forefront of their minds.
Part of my job as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney is to explain to my clients what can be recovered in a lawsuit against a doctor and hospital under Texas law. People are consistently shocked about how Texas law places so little value on pain, suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.
When attorneys, judges, and courts consider money that can be awarded by a jury in a medical malpractice lawsuit, they are lumped into two broad categories: economic damages and non-economic damages.
Non-economic damages are the types of things that are difficult to define with a dollar sign. Things like pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and physical impairment are all non-economic damages.
Under the so-called Texas tort reform laws that apply to medical malpractice cases, non-economic damages are capped at a total of $250,000 for all physician and healthcare provider defendants, and $250,000 per hospital (up to a maximum of $500,000).
Whether you sue one doctor or 10 doctors, the non-economic damages cap is $250,000 total. If you sue one hospital, the cap is $250,000. If you sue two or more hospitals, the total cap is $500,000.
The caps apply to all plaintiffs in a case. If a husband and wife are both plaintiffs in a medical negligence lawsuit, there is not an extra cap.
The trial judge does not inform the jury of the effect of tort reform caps on their verdict. For example, if you take a case to trial and the jury awards $10 million in non-economic damages to the plaintiff against a defendant doctor, the judge will reduce it to $250,000 when entering the judgment.
In my view, the tort reform caps on non-economic damages are unduly harsh and unconscionable. Yet, the law is the law.
I have met many people who think that Texas tort reform caps apply to every type of money award a jury can make in a verdict for a plaintiff. Fortunately, this is untrue. There are no caps on economic damages in medical malpractice cases in Texas.
Economic damages are straight-forward to understand. They are things that you can easily put a dollar sign next to—things like medical bills incurred and paid a result of injuries caused by negligence, anticipated future medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity in the future.
When meeting with my Central Texas client and his family yesterday, they quickly understood why we are focusing our efforts on developing evidence of our client’s economic damages.
As an experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney, when I have a case involving a client who is still of working age, but cannot work because of negligence, I hire an economist to prepare an expert report about lost wages and earning capacity. The economist looks at the plaintiff’s age, gender, educational level, and past earnings to make an appraisal that includes predicted wages and fringe benefits.
An economist’s report can result in a significant number for the jury to consider. Someone who has decades left to work, but is not able to because of negligence, may have millions of dollars of lost income over the rest of his or her life. And a jury can award a large monetary amount for lost wages and lost future earning capacity without tort reform caps reducing it.
In cases where a plaintiff has severe injuries that require significant ongoing care, it is sometimes appropriate to hire am expert life care planner. I prefer to use a medical doctor with special training in life care plans. The life care planning expert interviews and examines the plaintiff and then prepares a report of the type and cost of care needed for a lifetime. An injured person who needs 24/7 assistance—whether nursing or nursing aide care—will have a life care plan that costs millions of dollars. A jury could award these damages, as well, without caps applying.
Finally, as part of our careful, attentive work on behalf of our clients, we order billing records from hospitals and medical providers, with affidavits that show what was paid and what is still legally owed. In some cases, these bills add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, which a jury can award to a plaintiff, without a reduction by a cap.
We are here to help
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by medical, hospital, surgeon, or anesthesiologist malpractice or mistakes, then you should hire an experienced medical malpractice lawyer immediately.
Painter Law Firm is here to help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.
All consultations are free and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
The Joint Commission has emphasized improving surgical errors as a 2018 National Patient Safety Goal [...]read more
Academic/teaching hospitals do not consistently supervise still in their training, which can put patients at risk [...]read more
Hiring a competent, experienced medical malpractice attorney can mean the difference between a lawsuit and a dismissal
The Joint Commission has emphasized improving surgical errors as a 2018 National Patient Safety Goal
Academic/teaching hospitals do not consistently supervise still in their training, which can put patients at risk
87% of strokes are ischemic and 13% are hemorrhagic
Published in the July/August 2018 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine