Some people have a trusted doctor they rely on for anything from minor medical issues to much more serious conditions. Others are a little more "doctor-shy" and put off seeking medical care unless they really need it. Regardless of which end of the scale you're on, most of us have had to visit a doctor at some points in our lives and been treated for some medical conditions.
When treatment from a doctor falls below a certain standard of care, this constitutes negligence and a medical malpractice claim may arise.
That might seem like a small number to compensate you for your overall health and well-being, but in actuality, you can recover all of your actual expenses — the cap applies to "extras" that don't cost you money, like punitive damages.
A medical professional's standard of care is the reasonable approach, practice, or procedure for a particular medical situation. Reasonableness is determined by what's common and accepted in the local medical community. That means the standard of care might be different depending on where the treatment was provided. A physician or other medical professional has breached the standard of care if they failed to provide treatment consistent with the local standard.
In addition to breaching the standard of care, an injured plaintiff can make a claim that:
Some common medical malpractice claims include:
North Carolina defines "health care provider" as any person or entity licensed to perform medical treatment on patients. This includes:
North Carolina follows a contributory negligence system of law. In some states, if a plaintiff has a small amount of liability for their own injury, they can recover damages that subtract the percentage for which they were at fault. In North Carolina, however, if a plaintiff has any role in causing their own injury, they can't recover any damages.
How might this affect a medical malpractice claim?
For example, if you believe that a physician prescribed you the wrong medication for your illness and it caused you to become more severely ill, that might be medical malpractice. But if you also took the medication in a way that was different from what the doctor prescribed (greater or lesser quantity or on a different schedule, for instance), then you might be found to have some fault for your illness.
Another example might be if you visited a physical therapist for a shoulder injury. Perhaps they gave you a list of exercises you could perform at home in order to strengthen your muscles and heal from the original injury. Instead, your injury became worse. If you performed the exercises exactly as the therapist suggested, it could be medical malpractice. But if you did them in a different way or using different weights, you could be partially at fault.
All personal injury lawsuits (including medical malpractice cases) begin with the same basic premise:
The purpose is to make the plaintiff whole.
If your claim meets the necessary criteria to establish that a defendant was negligent and that negligence caused you harm that cost you money, you can recover the amount of money necessary to restore you to the financial condition you would be in if the injury hadn't happened.
Economic damages are those with a specific financial cost. This might include:
Non-economic damages don't have a specific monetary value. This category of damages still aims to compensate you for losses, but they could be intangibles and it's harder to assign a specific monetary value. Examples of non-economic damages include:
Punitive damages are calculated separately from both your economic and non-economic damages (together, these are called compensatory damages) as a punishment or deterrent to a defendant when the action that caused the injury was malicious, willful, or especially egregious.
In North Carolina, there are a couple of factors that affect whether a plaintiff is awarded punitive damages:
North Carolina law § 1D-35 presents the following factors as determining whether or not to award punitive damages:
There are 2 aspects to the medical malpractice damage cap in North Carolina that make it a little less straightforward than an actual number:
There are 2 laws for North Carolina evidence that are specifically related to medical malpractice lawsuits:
A North Carolina medical malpractice claim must be filed within 3 years from the date of your injury. North Carolina also has a discovery rule, which says that the statute of limitations begins to run from the date you discover the injury and that it was caused by medical malpractice. However, this only extends to a maximum of 4 years after the injury.
If the injured person was less than 10 years old at the time of their injury, the lawsuit may be filed anytime up to their 10th birthday.