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Compensation and Damages Cap for Medical Malpractice

The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III Feb. 8, 2024

Gavel and Stethoscope on a TableAs a personal injury attorney based in Seattle, I've been fortunate enough to help individuals throughout Western Washington navigate the grueling processes of medical malpractice claims and lawsuits.  

Washington is unique when it comes to compensation and damage caps for these cases. Unlike a lot of states, Washington has no caps on damages awarded in medical malpractice cases. This means that if you've been injured due to a healthcare provider's negligence, the amount of compensation you receive is not limited by any specific cap or limit. 

While this may sound like great news for individuals seeking justice and fair compensation, there are some important factors to consider when it comes to medical malpractice cases in Washington. 

Understanding Medical Malpractice 

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider fails to meet the standard of care expected in their profession, resulting in harm or injury to a patient. This can include: 

  • Misdiagnosis (or delayed diagnosis) is one of the leading types of medical malpractice claims. A misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis can result in the patient missing critical treatment opportunities which could have prevented serious harm or even death. It often involves conditions that are frequently misdiagnosed, such as heart attacks, strokes, or forms of cancer. 

  • Injuries to newborns or the mother during childbirth can be traumatic. These may involve fractured bones, nerve damage such as Erb's palsy, or hypoxia-related injuries that could result in cerebral palsy. It's critical to determine if these were due to natural causes or if they stemmed from a breach in the standard of care, such as failure to anticipate birth complications or improper use of delivery tools. 

  • Medication Errors can range from prescribing the wrong medication or dosage to a dispensing error at the pharmacy. These errors can cause significant adverse reactions or can diminish the efficacy of treatment, prolonging or complicating recovery processes. 

  • Surgical Errors can involve performing an incorrect procedure, operating on the wrong body part, or leaving surgical instruments inside a patient's body. Post-operative care is just as crucial, and negligence in this phase can lead to infections and other complications. 

  • Anesthesia Errors. Anesthesiologists carry a heavy responsibility, and even minor errors in anesthesia administration can lead to severe, life-threatening issues. Errors may include using too much anesthesia, failing to monitor the patient's vital signs, or not taking patient histories into account for potential allergies or complications. 

By understanding these common medical malpractice claims, patients can be more vigilant about their healthcare treatment, and practitioners can enhance their care to prevent potential litigation. 

Pursuing Compensation for Medical Malpractice in Washington 

Victims of medical negligence in Washington State have the right to seek financial compensation. 

To start the process, victims need to document their experiences meticulously, including keeping records of all medical interactions, treatments, and associated costs.  

They should also consult with a specialized attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases to evaluate the strength of their case. With the help of their attorney, they can file a lawsuit against the healthcare provider or institution responsible for the negligence.  

The legal process may involve negotiations for a settlement or, if necessary, proceeding to trial where a judge or jury can award damages.  

Possible Damages You Can Recover 

Possible damages in medical malpractice cases in Washington State can be extensive, and plaintiffs may seek compensation for various losses. Due to the lack of caps on damages, each case can be assessed on its individual merit and specific circumstances. Recoverable damages may include: 

  • Economic Damages: These are quantifiable costs directly related to the malpractice, such as medical bills (both past and future), loss of earnings, and the cost of future care or necessary modifications to one's lifestyle or home. 

  • Non-Economic Damages: Pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and loss of consortium are non-tangible losses that do not have a fixed financial value but are no less important when it comes to compensation. 

  • Punitive Damages: Although rare and not applicable in all cases, punitive damages may be awarded if the healthcare provider’s conduct is proven to be especially harmful, showing malice or blatant disregard for the patient's safety. 

The key takeaway here is that, in Washington, your potential compensation is not limited by pre-set caps, allowing the severity and impact of the malpractice to dictate the amount awarded. 

Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits 

The statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. When it comes to medical malpractice claims in Washington, victims generally have three years from the date of the medical error. 

But what if you only discovered the error after a year had passed? Don't worry - the law accounts for that. Your deadline will be extended to one year from the date of discovery.  

Mandatory Mediation: A Prerequisite for Trial 

In the state of Washington, before a medical malpractice case can proceed to trial, the parties involved are often required to engage in a process known as mandatory mediation. This step is designed as an effort to settle disputes outside of the courtroom and is a compulsory part of the litigation process. 

During mediation, an impartial third party, known as a mediator, facilitates discussion between the plaintiff and the defense to work towards a mutually agreeable resolution. Mediation offers a confidential setting where both sides can openly discuss their views on the case without the formality and pressure of a court trial. It can save time and reduce the expenses associated with a trial, benefiting both the victim and the healthcare provider. 

However, it is critical for plaintiffs to understand that while mediation is mandatory, agreeing to a settlement is not.  

If the mediation does not result in a settlement, the case can then proceed to trial, where it will be decided by a judge or jury. Plaintiffs should consult closely with their attorney to develop a strategy for mediation and to ensure their rights and interest are adequately represented and protected during this stage. 

Expert Witnesses: A Must in Most Cases 

In most instances, we'll need an expert witness to prove negligence. There are rare exceptions, though.  

For example, if a surgical tool was left in a patient's body post-surgery, a layperson could reasonably observe and describe the facts without needing medical training. 

Joint and Several Liability Rule 

What if multiple defendants are responsible for your injury?  

Washington's "joint and several" liability rules mean that you can collect the verdict from any of them, regardless of their individual level of blame. This is particularly helpful if one of the defendants is uninsured or underinsured, because the others involved in your case will be held responsible for their portion of the damages. 

Need a Lawyer? Reach Out Today. 

Understanding the compensation and damages caps for medical malpractice cases in Washington is crucial.  

With knowledge of the statute of limitations, mandatory mediation, expert witness requirements, and more, you'll be better prepared to navigate the legal process. As your advocate at The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III, I'm here to help you through every step of the process. 

As a personal injury attorney, I'm proud to serve clients not only in my home city of Seattle, but across all of Western Washington, including the Puget Sound Area, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Everett.