Understanding Damages in Illinois Medical Malpractice Cases

April 21, 2011

With President Obama' continued interest in tort reform regarding medical malpractice lawsuits, an understanding of the different types of damages that can be awarded in a suit is in order. Medical malpractice damages that can include compensation are broken down into two different categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. Each is discussed below.

#1 Economic damages. Economic damages refer to the patient's cost of suffering. Economic medical malpractice damages in Illinois may include medical expenses, lost wages, and other economic losses that resulted from the negligence. These damages may seek not only past economic losses, but those losses reasonably likely to result in the future.

According to Chicago medical malpractice lawyer Jason M. Kroot, expert witnesses are often needed to prove a connection between alleged medical negligence and the medical expenses claimed unless the connection is obvious. This is true because a lay person may lack the medical knowledge to decide whether a particular bill for treatment is related to the alleged negligence or something that is unrelated to the alleged negligence. When a lay person is unable to make this connection, courts generally require expert testimony to fill this gap in knowledge.

#2 Non-economic damages. These damages involve more subject matters that seek to make up for the harm caused by the alleged negligence. Non-economic damages in an Illinois medical malpractice case may include pain and suffering, disability (or loss of a normal life), disfigurement, and emotional or psychological damages. As with economic damages, non-economic damages may include past and future damages. Expert testimony is often also required to prove these elements of damages unless the matter is obvious (e.g., disability resulting from a lost limb).

Although legal in some states, punitive damages are not allowed in the state of Illinois. Many states also place a cap on the maximum amount of damages that the patient can recover. Illinois has no cap on non-economic compensatory damages for medical malpractice based on the recent Illinois Supreme Court decision in Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

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