Malpractice

Defending Yourself Against Pain and Suffering Lawsuits

Mark Crane

Disclosures

May 09, 2011

In This Article

De Facto Caps and Incentives to Settle

Mega-million dollar awards for pain and suffering may receive intense publicity, but the vast majority of awards and settlements fall within the physician's or hospital's insurance policy limits.

"That's the de facto cap regardless of whether states enact formal caps," says Leone. "As a plaintiff's attorney, I want to win. But if you win too big, the defense will appeal and the client doesn't receive anything until that's decided, maybe years later. If the award is too big, a judge may reduce it."

Defense attorney Thomas Hurney agrees. "The doctor's policy limits, usually $1 million per incident/$3 million aggregate, is the real playing field for settlement. Plaintiffs' lawyers really don't want to go after the doctor's house and assets."

You never know what a jury might do. Non-economic damages "act as an unknown that creates incentive for both sides to settle," says Leone. "In many cases, the economic damages are substantial and may exceed the doctor's coverage. Non-economic losses can be in the millions. Generally, if a jury comes in with very high non-economic damages, it means someone was too stubborn to settle."

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