What is the Virginia medical malpractice cap, and what does it mean to a patient injured by a medical mistake? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

The medical malpractice cap in Virginia (VA) is a law put in through the Virginia legislature which gives special treatment to healthcare providers like doctors and hospitals when they are sued for medical malpractice. The healthcare industry and insurance companies have very strong lobbyists in Richmond, Virginia (VA), the state capitol. They had a law passed that says that no matter what harm is caused to a patient by a medical error, the patient or her family can only receive two million dollars maximum. If a lawsuit for medical negligence goes to a jury and results in an award greater than two million dollars, then the judge will reduce what the jury thought was a reasonable verdict down to the cap level of two million dollars. This law gives doctors and their insurers an advantage over consumers and patients that no other industry enjoys in Virginia.

Unlike medical malpractice caps in some other states, the Virginia (VA) limit on damages on a medical malpractice case applies regardless of the economic loss to the person. For example, if your father became a quadriplegic as a result of a neck surgery messed up by a doctor, the most that could ever be received from the lawsuit is two million dollars. This limit applies even if the medical bills, past and future, to provide your dad treatment for the rest of his life costs ten million dollars.

Another situation that could happen in Virginia, where this arbitrary limit is unfair, is if your husband or wife is killed at a relatively young age when they had a good job that you and your children were depending on to pay the family’s bills in the future. If a physician or a nurse causes a permanent injury and your spouse can never work again as a result, the most you can ever receive is two million dollars, even if an economist estimates that over their work-life expectancy, your husband or wife would have made five million dollars.

These medical malpractice limits apply in any case where you are alleging that you or a loved one was harmed by a healthcare provider while you or your loved one was a patient of that healthcare provider. The limits even apply to wrongful death cases where the patient was killed as a result of some botched procedure. For example, if your son or daughter dies in a hospital because the anesthesiologist let them die by mistake during the administration of general anesthesia, the cap applies in Virginia for your dead child. It does not matter how much of a loss was suffered by the parents or the brothers and sisters of the child who died, the Virginia legislature has set down what the maximum amount that their life was worth. Rather than leaving it to the jury or judge after hearing the facts about damages in a medical malpractice case, the Virginia legislature has substituted in its judgment without reference to the facts of the medical malpractice, the losses to the family, or the economic harm caused.

The Virginia medical malpractice cap is, in my opinion as a personal injury attorney having practiced over twenty years in Virginia, completely unfair. It is nothing more than a special favor to the medical system and medical malpractice insurance companies. Ironically, studies have shown that caps do nothing to increase the availability of healthcare or lower the premiums that doctors pay for medical malpractice coverage. The insurance companies just pocket the extra profit.