Unintended Consequences of Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

  • March 17, 2005
  • By Catherine M. Sharkey
This study, by Columbia Law School Associate Professor of Law Catherine M. Sharkey, raises questions about medical liability reform initiatives premised on the assumption that caps on awards for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases will advantage doctors, hospitals and insurers by necessarily reducing total jury compensatory awards.

An objective analysis of the efficacy of caps on non-economic damages in medical liability cases shows that awards for non-economic damages—pain and suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, marital losses, anguish, and inconvenience—do not significantly and systematically reduce overall awards to plaintiffs. In fact, limiting non-economic damages may be contributing to a rise in economic damage—lost wages, medical expenses (past and future), rehabilitation expenses, and other financial costs.