Punitive Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice

We all know what a criminal court is: it is a place where persons charged with committing a crime are prosecuted by the state and held accountable for their nefarious ways.  The punishments are typically fines, community supervision, and or incarceration.  

But civil courts are much different.  These are the courts in which medical malpractice cases, among others, are litigated.  Civil courts are not meant to punish the wrongdoer as much as they are concerned with making the plaintiff “whole” again.  The idea is to compensate the victim so that he or she is restored to a condition akin to that which existed prior to the act of medical negligence.  Therefore, the injured patient’s compensation comes in the form of compensatory damages. 

Experienced medical malpractice attorneys in the Hudson Valley regions of New York know that more than compensatory damages can be awarded.  Another type of damages exists: punitive damages.  We understand that it states above that civil courts are not about punishing the wrongdoer, but with that said, some circumstances warrant holding the offending medical professional to a higher degree of accountability.

When a medical professional has behaved in an especially egregious way; recklessly, wantonly, and or with intent, the jury may be asked to consider punitive damages.  We are talking about actions that go way beyond the mere making of a mistake. 

Consider a hypothetical example to illustrate the point.  A doctor seeks lucrative funding contracts.  The more patients he or she enrolls in a grant funded study will bring in more money.  However, the doctor is having trouble finding suitable and appropriate patients for the study.  The doctor then begins to enroll patients in the study, patients that are inappropriate for the study and will be harmed if allowed to participate.  These patients end up being harmed and suffer numerous adverse mental and physical injuries. 

In this hypothetical, the doctor intentionally placed the victims in harm’s way with complete disregard for their well being all in the name of making more money.  The jury is this case can be allowed to punish the doctor by awarding the victim punitive damages.  This will also send a strong message to other doctors and the medical profession as a whole that such behavior will not be tolerated.

Juries will be left alone to determine the amount of punitive damages.  The amount can never be predicted.   And for the most part, a jury’s damages award is left unmolested by the court.  But there are times that the punitive damages award is rather large, suggesting that the jury was too swayed by emotion or that the jury did not understand the entire issue.  In these instances, the judge can modify the award, or ask the jury to reconsider the award. 

But what do you think?  I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected]  You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com

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