Medical Malpractice Cases: Damages and the Use of a Medical Negligence Claim Calculator

It is not a good idea to trust so-called legal “experts” when they assert that they can easily calculate a medical malpractice claim based on a set of prefigured numbers and a description of injuries. This oversimplified approach of using a claim calculator is not based in reality and the complex nature of individual cases. Only an experienced medical malpractice attorney, after careful and precise review of the client’s medical records and expert testimony, can begin to provide an accurate and realistic estimate of compensatory damages. Each person’s case is different. Specific injuries and their effects on someone’s life are highly variable and the value of a medical malpractice case cannot be predicted based on a set of standard numbers.

The goal of awarded damages in medical malpractice cases is to compensate clients for the medical and personal losses incurred due to the injury resulting from medical negligence. In some cases the award includes a monetary amount to offset the expected value of a lifetime of future medical care and loss of future earning capacity resulting from the medical negligence.. It can also include the expense of modifying a client’s home to let them continue to live there, medical assistance from paid caregivers or a partner who quit a job to take care of them, and new vehicles that the disabled person can drive. Thus, proving damages requires examining technical information, making sometimes difficult calculations, and negotiating in good faith with other parties.

Types of Damages

Leaving aside punitive damages, most medical malpractice damages can be divided into two types: 1) economic or special damages and 2) general or non-economic damages. To estimate these damages, insurance adjusters in some instances apply a “multiplier” based on the victim’s economic (out of pocket) losses in working up settlement offers. That number will be low or high depending on specific facts in the case that include severity of injuries, medical treatment received to date, future anticipated medical treatment, likely prognosis of recovery, and permanent or long-lasting effects.

One of the problems with using multipliers in a claim calculator is that there are too many variables. It is totally subjective as to what multiplier an insurance adjuster or defense attorney uses in any given case. If someone dies from medical negligence but there are very low medical costs, a multiplier would rarely come close to fully compensating the victim.

Economic or Special Damages

One would think that the clearest part of the damage calculation would be adding up the actual out-of-pocket losses that resulted from a negligent injury. These include the following: medical and hospital bills, ambulance cost, rehabilitation and/or physical therapy expenses, medicine and prescription drug costs, nursing home care, domestic services, medical equipment, increased living expenses, additions made to the home for mobility purposes, and a specialized vehicle for transportation. However, other sources of out of pocket losses may sometimes also be factored in on a case-by-case basis. Future medical expenses can also be a huge value driver in a medical malpractice case and are often the most unpredictable part of the damage calculation

Some online settlement calculators say to enter the total amount of your medical bills, even if you didn’t pay out of pocket. These calculators assume that you can recover the full value of all your medical bills from the defendant. But this isn’t the case for a couple of reasons. In Florida, you are not entitled to recover your total medical bills; you’re only allowed to recover the medical bills paid out of pocket or paid on your behalf out of pocket by first party coverage, but only if the first party coverage has a legal right of recovery from the settlement for the medical costs they paid on the victim’s behalf.

General (Non-economic) Damages: Pain and Suffering

As difficult as calculating economic losses are, the more subjective and unpredictable part of calculating damages is estimating the dollar value of non-economic losses. These cover losses that do not have a set monetary value. These general damages include mental anguish, disfigurement, long-term physical pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of consortium (a spouse or immediate family members is deprived of the deceased’s love and companionship), loss of opportunity, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Evidence of this difficulty can be seen in astronomical and unexpected jury awards because a jury was moved by compassion to help the injured person or their loved ones. In particular, there is substantial disagreement over the way to measure the pain and suffering that resulted from medical negligence. Deciding how much it would take to compensate someone for disfigurement, chronic pain, loss of limb, or some other non-economic harm is highly subjective and therefore unreliable in terms of a fair award.  

Some lawyers suggest to juries that an effective way to calculate general damages is to apply a per diem calculation such as asking them to award damages by equating the loss to some hourly or daily amount.

Summary of Problems with Claim Calculators

A claim calculator will not be generally useful in determining non-economic damages related to factors such as pain and suffering. There are so many incalculable variables that cannot be assessed by such a gauge. Just a few of these are age, extent of damage, visible scarring, level of social anxiety or depression, changes to habits and routines, and the degree to which a disability or impairment affects the daily activities of life, including normal physical relations with and sharing of affection and companionship with a spouse or partner.

Moreover, the length of time someone will suffer from the loss of a loved one or will deal with a permanent disability resulting from negligence is a huge factor in the value of medical malpractice cases. The loss of a spouse by a 31-year-old tends to result in a larger damage award from a jury than losing a spouse at age 75, for instance. Also, many medical malpractice cases are not clear and uncontroverted. Experts sometimes differ substantially on whether there was negligence at all. This means that if the plaintiff has only a 50 percent chance of winning at trial, their case value may be worth only half or less for settlement purposes. In summary, there are far too many variables determining the value of a medical malpractice case. This is why a case should be evaluated by a medical negligence attorney and not by plugging in numbers.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.