Medical Malpractice

Is There a Cap on Damages in Maryland Medical Malpractice Cases?

By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
If you're filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland, understand the statutory dollar limit on compensation for certain kinds of harm associated with your injuries.

The short answer to this question is "yes." As part of tort reform efforts intended to discourage the filing of frivolous or meritless medical malpractice lawsuits, Maryland lawmakers have passed a cap on the amount of "non-economic" damages a plaintiff can be awarded in a successful suit against a health care provider. In this article we'll take a closer look at the details regarding this important legislation, and what it means for anyone who is thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland.

Non-Economic Damages are Capped in Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

In any Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit against a hospital, doctor, or other licensed health care provider, the defendant's "non-economic" damages can't exceed the amount set by Code of Maryland section 3-2A-09, which varies depending on when the lawsuit is/was filed:

  • for medical malpractice lawsuits filed in 2016, the cap on non-economic damages is $770,000
  • for lawsuits filed in 2017, the cap is $785,000 and
  • for lawsuits filed in 2018, the cap is $800,000.

By law, and since 2009, Maryland’s medical malpractice damages cap has been set to increase by $15,000 each year. So (assuming no future legislative changes), you can just add $15,000 per year beyond 2018. For lawsuits filed prior to 2016, subtract $15,000 for each year (so the cap is $755,000 for cases filed in 2015, and so on).

For practical purposes, Maryland's cap means even if, at a medical malpractice civil trial, the plaintiff successfully proves that a health care provider committed a mistake, and a jury decides to hold the provider liable, the jury can't award the plaintiff more than what's allowed under the relevant statutory cap on "non-economic" damages. (More on proving medical malpractice).

So, the next logical question is...

What are Non-Economic Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case?

In a medical malpractice case (and all injury-related lawsuits, for that matter) non-economic damages are the kinds of losses that are more subjective to the plaintiff, and not easily captured by a dollar amount. Maryland statutes defines "non-economic damages" as "pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or other nonpecuniary injury." That covers a lot of ground (and it's a lot of "legalese"). But in plain English, non-economic damages include compensation for the physical discomfort and limitations experienced as a result of the medical error, as well as the psychological and emotional effects as experienced by the plaintiff.

One of the reasons Maryland's medical malpractice damages cap is so controversial is that, while non-economic damages are, by definition, not easy to quantify, they also typically represent the bulk of a successful plaintiff's monetary award after a successful medical malpractice lawsuit -- especially one where the defendant health care provider's error resulted in serious health consequences.

But it's also important to note that Maryland's cap will have no bearing on "economic" damages, including compensation that can be considered "reimbursement" for past and future financial losses caused by the malpractice, and other types of damages that can be captured by an objective dollar amount. That includes:

  • the cost of past and future medical treatment made necessary by the malpractice (including monitoring of the plaintiff's condition)
  • income lost because of the malpractice
  • lost or diminished earning capacity (the effect on the plaintiff's ability or to earn a living) resulting from the malpractice, and
  • other quantifiable financial loss caused by the defendant health care provider's negligence.

To reiterate: These kinds of quantifiable financial damages are not subject to any cap in Maryland.

The Cap Covers Multiple Claims and Defendants

Section 3-2A-09 states that Maryland's non-economic damages cap applies "in the aggregate to all claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising from the same medical injury, regardless of the number of claims, claimants, plaintiffs, beneficiaries, or defendants." So, regardless of how many health care providers are being sued by the plaintiff, the same cap will apply.

The only exception is for Maryland medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death where there are two or more "claimants or beneficiaries." A special cap formula applies to those cases: total non-economic damages cannot exceed 125% of that year's cap, regardless of the number of claimants, beneficiaries, or defendants.

You can read the details about Maryland's cap on non-economic damages at Code of Maryland section 3-2A-09.

More Information on Maryland Medical Malpractice Laws

If you're considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland, besides the damages cap we discussed in this article, you also need to be aware of (and be in compliance with) the Maryland Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits, and other Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Requirements in Maryland.

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