As a Cleveland personal injury lawyer, I am frequently asked “what is the value of my claim”? In assessing the value of a personal injury, medical malpractice or wrongful death claim, one important factor under Ohio law is the non-economic damages caps. “Damages” is the term that lawyers use to describe all of the harms and losses caused by an injury or wrongful death. “Economic damages” refer to losses that come with an actual price tag, like loss of wages and benefits, costs of home care, medical and hospital costs, costs of institutional care (e.g., nursing home) and prescription costs. Non-economic damages include pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of usual activities. In Ohio, juries were historically given broad discretion to determine the amount of money that would compensate an injury victim for their non-economic damages. However, in 2005, that changed.
In 2005, the Ohio legislature, in a gift to big-money special interests, like the American Medical Association and the insurance industry, enacted so-called “tort reform” measures in Ohio. Many other States did the same. Included in these tort reform measures were caps on non-economic damages. In Ohio, the damages caps were broken down into 2 categories: caps on awards in medical negligence claims and caps on awards in general negligence lawsuits. General negligence lawsuits include all types of personal injury, including car crashes, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, explosions, electrocution, burns, construction site injuries, traumatic brain injury, and the like.
In general negligence cases, non-economic damages “shall not exceed the greater of $250,000.00 or an amount that is equal to three times the economic loss … to a maximum of $350,000.00.” This limit applies to each plaintiff up to a maximum of $500,000.00 for claim. So, for example, assume that an individual is in involved in a car accident and sustains multiple fractures that require surgery, resulting in more than $200,000.00 in medical bills. The person ultimately recovers from this serious injury. The person’s non-economic losses would be capped at $350,000.00 (3 x $200,000.00 up to a maximum of $350,000.00). If the individual has a spouse, the spouse would be entitled to a maximum of $150,000.00 on their loss of consortium claim ($500,000.00 maximum less $350,000.00 paid to the injured spouse). The total non-economic recovery is capped at $500,000.00.
Note that the statute also provides that there will be no cap on non-economic losses when the compensation is for “(a) permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system; or (b) permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for himself or herself and perform life-sustaining activities.” This provision is usually fair in that it removes the damage cap in the case of catastrophic injuries.
In medical malpractice cases, the cap is less fair. The law provides for a cap of “$250,000.00 or an amount that is equal to three times the economic loss … to a maximum of $350,000.00.” Again, the cap applies to each plaintiff up to a maximum of $500,000.00, as in general injury cases. However, unlike general negligence cases, damages in medical malpractice cases are capped in catastrophic cases as well. Catastrophic injuries are defined the same way as in general negligence cases. In catastrophic medical negligence cases, non-economic losses are capped at $500,000.00 per plaintiff up to a maximum of $1,000,000.00. So, for example, if there is a surgical error that caused a patient to become quadriplegic, the patient’s non-economic damages will be capped at $500,000.00, while his/her family members can only recover $500,000.00 total. Using this example, you can see that compensation in a catastrophic medical negligence case can be miniscule when considering the impact that quadriplegia will have on the injured patient’s life.
In addition to caps on compensatory damages, the Ohio legislature also enacted caps on punitive damages. Compensatory damages refer to damages for the injured person’s actual harms and losses. Punitive damages are available in cases of egregious misconduct to punish a wrongdoer. Ohio law requires that any claim for punitive damages be tried separately from the claim for compensatory damages. Punitive damages are capped at 2 times the compensatory award. A smaller cap may apply for small businesses or individuals.
Note that the damages caps are limited to non-economic damages. They currently do not apply to economic losses. In addition, the caps only apply to claims in which the plaintiff sustained injury not death. Wrongful death claims are not subject to caps.
People interested in learning more about our firm’s legal services, including medical malpractice in Ohio, may ask questions or send us information about a particular case by phone or email. There is no charge for contacting us regarding your inquiry. A member of our medical-legal team will respond within 24 hours.