Medical malpractice caps are limitations placed on the amount of non-economic damages a person can recover in a medical malpractice tort case. Medical malpractice involves suing a physician for providing care that fell short of the reasonable standard of care a doctor is expected under the law to provide. A person who is the victim of medical malpractice can sue to recover damages for medical bills, lost income as a result of the injury, any pain and suffering he experienced, and in some cases for punitive damages if the doctor was especially careless or the injury severe. Some states, however, have placed medical malpractice caps, placing a monetary limit on the amount of damages a victim is entitled to above and beyond his actual losses for medical bills and lost income or wages.
There are many arguments for medical malpractice caps, or tort reform, as the practice is sometimes called. The main argument centers around the belief that instituting medical malpractice caps will help to make the health care system more affordable for all participants. The belief is that by imposing these caps or limits on the amount of damages a doctor can be required to pay, the cost of health care will decline because the cost of medical malpractice insurance will decline.
Medical malpractice insurance is an insurance policy that doctors are required to carry in the event they are sued. The premiums for medical malpractice can be quite high in light of the number of medical malpractice lawsuits and in light of the large jury verdicts sometimes awarded by a sympathetic jury. In certain fields, such as obstetrics, the premiums are especially astronomical, and as doctors are forced to pay these high premium costs, the doctors are forced to charge more for visits and care to still be profitable, thus leading to a higher cost for consumers.
California is one example of a state that has instituted medical malpractice caps. Under California Civil Code section 3333.2, non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, wrongful death verdicts, and any punitive damages, are limited to $250,000 US Dollars (USD) per incident of medical malpractice. Other states have similar limits in place, including Florida and Texas. Federal limits have been proposed but have not been passed as of 2010, and some states, including Wisconsin in a case called Ferdon v. Wisconsin Patient's Compensation Fund, have ruled that such damage caps are unconstitutional.