When a legal dispute begins, typically, one party is looking for another to “make things right.” Often, this comes in the form of financial compensation, known as damages. Damages aim to reimburse a party for the financial loss or personal hardship they’ve experienced as a result of the claimed negligence. In Michigan, damages are split into two categories – economic and noneconomic.
This post explains the differences between the two categories, Michigan’s rules, and the 2023 noneconomic damages limits for medical malpractice cases.
Economic damages reflect actual expenses that an injured party paid or lost.
Examples of economic damages:
- Medical costs
- Rehabilitation services
- Lost wages, earnings, or employment
- Burial and funeral costs
- Property losses, repair, or replacement costs
- Costs of future medical care
For example, if a patient believes a surgeon committed medical malpractice, they may believe they’re entitled to reimbursement for:
- Hospital and surgery bills
- Wages lost while hospitalized and subsequent recovery
- Physical therapy and outpatient services resulting from the surgery
Noneconomic damages are more subjective and offer compensation for someone’s emotional and physical pain or suffering.
Examples of noneconomic damages:
- Physical impairment or disfigurement
- Loss of society or companionship
Using the surgery scenario, a patient may believe they’re entitled to noneconomic damages to account for:
- Their inability to participate in their running group
- Injuries that render them unable to drive
- Depression and embarrassment due to their injury
A patient can only make a claim for damages if they can first prove the doctor was negligent and prove the doctor’s negligence caused the alleged harm.
Michigan Damage Laws
In Michigan medical malpractice cases, economic damages are limited to what the plaintiff can prove within a reasonable degree of certainty.
Noneconomic damages are different because they’re subjective. It’s hard to value someone’s life, pain, suffering, etc. Without guidelines, a jury could award an unreasonable amount of damages with no valid basis. Therefore, the Michigan Legislature implemented limits on noneconomic damages for medical malpractice cases. The state treasurer reviews and updates these caps each year.
Michigan has two caps for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases – a lower cap and an upper cap. For 2023, the lower cap is $537,900, and the upper cap is $960,500. The default is the lower cap. A plaintiff is not eligible for the upper cap unless they can meet certain statutory requirements.
Plaintiffs must establish that they:
- Are hemiplegic, paraplegic, or quadriplegic and have experienced total functioning loss of at least one limb due to brain or spinal cord injuries
- Have permanently impaired cognitive capacity rendering them incapable of making responsible decisions and performing activities for normal living
- Have suffered permanent loss or damage to a reproductive organ resulting in the inability to procreate
Again, the plaintiff has the burden of proving they qualify for the upper cap of noneconomic damages.
Despite the caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, they often have financial exposure into the millions. Our skilled and experienced medical malpractice defense team can help defend your care and limit the liability associated with the claim.
About the Author
Laura Johnson has been practicing law for more than 10 years and focuses on medical malpractice defense litigation. She represents hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other health care providers throughout Michigan in all stages of litigation. Laura earned her Juris Doctor from Wayne State University Law School.
Smith Haughey defends the health care industry against medical malpractice claims.