What is the Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages in North Carolina?
When a patient sues a medical provider for malpractice, they usually hope to get money damages to compensate them for their injury.
There are generally two classes of damages: economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages refer to specific costs the patient incurred as a result of his/her injury, such as:
- medical bills,
- lost wages,
- lost earnings,
- and miscellaneous out-of-pocket costs.
On the other hand, noneconomic damages refer to all the other types of damages, such as emotional distress, physical pain, and mental suffering.
Understanding Medical Malpractice Compensation and Medical Malpractice Caps
Although a plaintiff can be eligible to receive compensatory damages that include both economic and non-economic damages, it is important to know that there are caps on non-economic damages. While a plaintiff can recover the full amount of economic damages—such as the costs of hospital bills, lost wages, and future lost earnings, North Carolina courts have a cap on the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff can receive. To be clear, even a person has experienced substantial pain and suffering, the court will restrict the amount of money that the plaintiff can receive to compensate her for this type of loss.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 35 jurisdictions in the U.S. currently have a limit or cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice or medical negligence cases. Only 17 jurisdictions have no limits or caps on medical malpractice payouts for non-economic damages.
Medical Malpractice Caps in North Carolina
The North Carolina Legislature on October 1, 2011, enacted legislation that severely restricts the rights of those injured by negligent health care providers in this state. The legislation will mean that many patients injured by negligent health care providers will no longer be permitted to recover all that they have lost.
For the first time in North Carolina history, the politicians in Raleigh are now able to overrule a jury of ordinary citizens.
The legislation limits the amount of non-economic damages that can be recovered in medical malpractice cases to $500,000 regardless of the jury’s decision.
This means that the most that can be recovered for pain, suffering, permanent injury, scarring, and disfigurement or even the death of a loved one is $500,000. The statute mandates The Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) to update the current limit on noneconomic damages of $500,000 to account for inflation.
The statute requires the update to occur on January 1st of every third year beginning with January 1, 2014. The OSBM reset the limitation on damages for noneconomic losses related to medical malpractice to $533,409 as of January 1, 2017.
Statute of Limitations in a North Carolina Medical Malpractice Case
While it is important to be aware of the recent limitations on a plaintiff’s eligibility for non-economic damages in a medical malpractice claim, it is also essential to understand how the statute of limitations could bar a plaintiff from any recovery entirely.
Under North Carolina law, most medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within three years from the date of the medical negligence incident. If an injured patient fails to file a claim within this time period, not only will that patient’s potential non-economic damages be capped, but the patient will have a time-barred claim that will prevent him or her from seeking any type of compensatory damages in a civil claim.
In some instances, the statute of limitations can be extended if the patient did not immediately realize that she had been injured (e.g., in cases where a surgeon left a foreign object in the body after surgery). A North Carolina medical malpractice lawyer can help.
Call a Medical Malpractice Attorney
At Dawson & Albritton, we have represented injured patients for decades. For help with your case, please contact us as soon as possible. We offer a free initial consultation that you can schedule by calling 252-752-2485.