Why Is Virginia’s Medical Malpractice Cap on Damages Arbitrary and Unfair?

Imagine being told that the life of your child is only worth $2.6 million. Our Virginia Beach medical malpractice lawyers understand that the loss of a child is one of the most devastating events that any parent can experience, but when that loss is the result of a hospital medical error or mistake – by the very people we count on to keep our children safe – that loss is even more incomprehensible.

This is exactly what happened to Carson and Kallie McRae of Warrenton, VA. In November 2022, their 2-year-old son Artemis was admitted to the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, suffering from appendicitis. What should have been a routine medical procedure turned into a lifetime nightmare for his parents when a traveling nurse in the emergency department administered 1,000 milligrams of Tylenol through his IV instead of the 175 milligrams a boy his size should have received.

Over the next two weeks, that lethal dose of Tylenol caused the little boy’s liver to fail and his brain to swell. His parents were finally forced to make the heartbreaking decision no parent should ever have to make, and 24 hours after his breathing tube was removed, Artemis died.

As is their legal right under Virginia law and to obtain some kind of justice for their son’s death, his parents can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital for their son’s death, but they have learned that Virginia has a cap on the damages victims and their families can collect in medical malpractice lawsuits.

So according to the state of Virginia, the life of 2-year-old Artemis Harrison McCrae – and the loss of that precious life – is worth no more than $2.6 million.

Why Does Virginia Law Impose a Cap on Medical Malpractice Claims?

Virginia, along with about two dozen other states in the country have passed laws that put caps on the amount of damages victims of malpractice can collect for the losses they have suffered. States began enacting caps in the mid-1970s in response to a spike in medical malpractice insurance premiums and lack of insurance coverage. Despite multiple studies that have been done over the decades since, there is no conclusive evidence that these caps reduce insurance premiums.

Several state supreme courts appear to agree – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Washington have all struck down caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases as unconstitutional. Florida and New Hampshire held that caps on damages violated the Equal Protection Clause, while Alabama, Georgia, and Washington concluded that damage caps infringed on the right to trial by jury. Illinois justices held that damage caps violated the separation of powers clause.

While each state’s damages caps are different, under Virginia law, the current damage cap for all damages is $2.60 million (for judgments entered from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024), increasing by increments of $50,000 for each 12-month period. The cap applies to all causes of action that occurred on or after August 1, 1999.

Why Medical Malpractice Damage Caps Should Be Eliminated

Injustice to Victims

One of the most significant criticisms of caps on medical malpractice damages is that they can lead to injustice for victims. When a patient suffers from medical negligence and experiences severe harm or loss, they should be entitled to fair compensation. Arbitrary caps can limit their ability to receive adequate compensation for their pain, suffering, medical bills, and loss of income. This deprives victims of their rightful legal recourse and can exacerbate their already challenging situation.

Deterrence of Accountability

Caps on damages can discourage healthcare providers from maintaining high standards of care. Knowing that their potential liability is limited, some medical professionals may be less motivated to take necessary precautions or engage in best practices. This lack of accountability can contribute to a decline in the quality of healthcare services and patient safety.

Flawed Assumption of Frivolous Malpractice Lawsuits

Proponents of damage caps often argue that they prevent frivolous lawsuits and reduce healthcare costs. However, studies have shown that the majority of medical malpractice claims are not frivolous but rather involve legitimate instances of negligence. Caps can deter valid claims and, in turn, hinder the healthcare system’s ability to learn from mistakes and improve patient safety.

Unequal Impact on Low-Income Victims

Caps on medical malpractice damages disproportionately affect low-income individuals and families. Wealthier victims may still be able to cover their medical expenses and seek necessary care, but those with limited financial resources may struggle to recover from the harm they’ve suffered, leading to long-term negative consequences for their health and well-being.

Contact Our Virginia Beach Personal Injury Law Firm Today

If you have been a victim of a hospital medical error or your family has suffered the loss of a loved one in a Virginia medical malpractice wrongful death, contact Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to find out what legal recourse you have and how your family can obtain civil justice for your family’s losses.

We will work diligently to get your family the financial justice you deserve, like the $2.23 million wrongful death/medical malpractice verdict our firm secured for one family whose mother died from a delayed diagnosis of hospital sepsis. Call today to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our skilled Virginia Beach medical malpractice lawyers.

Our personal injury firm also has satellite offices in Hampton, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.