There are two types of damages available in a negligence medical malpractice case, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are derived from the word "compensate," meaning "to make up for" or "to make whole". Generally, these damages can be broken up into two sub-categories- actual damages and general damages. Actual damages seek to reimburse a plaintiff for out-of-pocket expenses incurred, or financial losses sustained. Actual damages typically include:
- Medical and hospitalization bills incurred to treat your injuries
- Wages lost due to work missed while you recuperate
- Costs of household or nursing help during recovery, including costs of wheelchair or crutches required
As noted, injured victims can also sue for general damages in addition to actual damages. General damages include the things that can't be precisely documented in dollars spent, including:
- Pain and suffering endured due to injuries and any subsequent mental anguish
- Disfigurement resulting from injuries
- Value of medical expenses you are likely to incur in the future
- Value of wages you are likely to lose in the future
- Permanency of injury and resulting pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (benefits of a relationship)
- Loss of opportunity
In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases. Punitive damages are not based on actual injuries sustained. Rather, they are a way to punish the defendant for intentional conduct or gross negligence — behavior that is so egregious that a civil court penalty is warranted in order to deter the defendant from committing the same act again in the future.
Example: Based on a true story, if a doctor delivers a woman's baby and then makes a small incision on her torso signifying that he was responsible for her children, the woman should expect significant punitive damages to be awarded against the doctor.
In more unusual cases, a patient may succeed in proving that a doctor promised a particular result from a medical treatment or procedure and failed to obtain the promised result. In these types of cases, it may be possible to recover damages from the doctor for the loss of the value of the successful treatment.
Damages are also available in cases where the plaintiff is able to prove that he or she was not provided with proper informed consent. The damages in such cases are different that in a typical negligence medical malpractice claim. As the premise for such cases is that the doctor treated the patient without his or her consent, the doctor may be liable for the wrongful touching of the patient, regardless of whether the treatment was successful.