A medical malpractice settlement can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the plaintiff’s injuries. Who actually receives all that money varies by the type of damages awarded by the court. In Pennsylvania, the state may actually profit from a patient’s suffering, and it’s all perfectly legal.
Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages
A medical malpractice lawyer can seek both compensatory and punitive damages for a client. Compensatory damages are economic losses, including medical bills and lost income, as the result of the defendant’s negligence. Compensatory damages often have a finite dollar amount associated with them. A client’s financial losses are relatively easy to calculate with bill statements from medical providers and pay stubs to show how much a client should be earning each week. There’s no cap on compensatory damages in Pennsylvania.
Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their bad behavior and discourage others from engaging in the same acts in the future. Unlike compensatory damages, Pennsylvania law caps punitive damages at 200 percent of compensatory damages. If the court rules there was “intentional misconduct” in a given medical malpractice claim, the jury can award any dollar amount it likes for punitive damages. For example, a doctor knowingly prescribing a lethal dose of medication is exhibiting intentional misconduct.
Pennsylvania Takes its Cut
While a client keeps 100 percent of compensatory damages awarded in a medical malpractice case – minus any costs and attorney’s fees – the state of Pennsylvania takes a cut of the client’s punitive damages award. The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund (Mcare) claims 25 percent of punitive damages awarded in any medical malpractice case in the state. Mcare is a medical liability fund managed by the Pennsylvania government, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Injury lawyers are aware of this rule and should go over it with clients to make them more comfortable with the procedure when finalizing settlements.
The required “donation” to the Mcare fund reduces a total medical malpractice settlement, but doesn’t touch the funds – compensatory damages – a client needs to pay bills related to the incident and replace lost income. Attorneys dedicated to helping clients understand the legal process surrounding their cases shouldn’t shy away from this subject.