The short answer to the question of whether a North Carolina law caps monetary awards to victims of medical malpractice is yes.
That simple response hides a great deal of complexity, and knowing the details will definitely benefit someone who has suffered an injury or diminished health due to mistakes by health care providers.
- Medical Malpractice Caps for Emergency Room Errors Adopted in North Carolina
- For First Time, North Carolina Imposes Damage Cap for Medical Malpractice Claims
- Virginia Does Not Cap Awards for Noneconomic Damages in Personal Injury Cases That Don’t Involve Medical Malpractice
What State Law Says
As explained in section 90-21.19 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the cap applies only to noneconomic damages. Such damages are defined in the law as compensation “for pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, inconvenience, and any other nonpecuniary compensatory damage.” “Consortium” is lawyer-speak for marital relations. “Nonpecuniary” means “not relating to money.” In other words, a nonpecuniary damage is one that lacks an easily calculated cash value.
The cap was initially set at $500,000 in 2011. A provision of the law call for that cap to increase every three years based on inflation.
Another subsection of the law waives the cap when a judge or jury determines that the defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit acted recklessly, maliciously, fraudulently or in a grossly negligent manner. The cap is also removed when a medical malpractice victim has “suffered disfigurement, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injury or death.” Fr the purposes of this law, disfigurements include visible scars.
How the Damage Cap Affects Medical Malpractice Victims
Economic damages are not capped. This means that the plaintiff in a North Carolina medical malpractice case can claim as much compensation as needed to cover past and future health care costs, lost wages, loss of future earnings and, when sadly necessary, funeral expenses.
Importantly, the statutory cap on noneconomic damages applies only to medical malpractice cases. North Carolina sets no limits on what victims of car accidents, slips and falls, or other types of personal injuries and wrongful deaths can claim and recover for noneconomic damages.
A Note on Punitive Damages
Awards for punitive damages are exempt from the cap imposed under section 90-21.10. However, a different North Carolina law generally limits punitive damage awards to the greater of $250,000 or three times the award for economic damages.
Punitive damages are noncriminal fines assessed against defendants who caused harm by acting without regard to the consequences of their actions. As a practical matter, very few plaintiffs receive punitive damages.