Can You Sue a Doctor for Pain and Suffering?

Medical professionals like doctors, nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists have a professional duty to ensure they do not harm their patients. The doctor who treats a patient must use approved diagnostic methods and treatments appropriate for the patient’s condition, and every known medical condition has a standard of care that a treating physician must meet. When a medical professional deviates from the acceptable standard of care and harms a patient, that medical professional commits medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice can lead to increased medical expenses, more time missed from work for recovery, as well as pain and suffering. Medical malpractice may lead to a patient requiring additional corrective procedures or long-term recovery. A patient may even develop a permanent disability due to malpractice. These issues can lead to severe physical pain, emotional distress, and psychological anguish, and the doctor or other professional who caused these issues is liable for the patient’s damages.

Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages

Abstract concepts like pain and suffering are difficult to assign monetary values, so how does a jury decide how much a plaintiff receives for pain and suffering compensation? Several factors go into this calculation, and the first is usually state law. Some states place limits or caps on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive for non-economic damages like pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. Damage caps aside, the jury typically considers the plaintiff’s credibility and the consistency of his or her story as well as expert witness testimony to arrive at a reasonable figure.

A jury will likely award more compensation for pain and suffering to a plaintiff who appears sincere and consistent in his or her testimony. If a plaintiff’s story changes over time, or he or she claims new symptoms every few weeks during the course of litigation, the jury may be skeptical of the plaintiff and feel less inclined to award more pain and suffering compensation.

In some states, the jury will simply multiply a plaintiff’s claimed medical expense damages by a certain amount to reflect the pain and suffering involved with his or her condition. For example, a plaintiff who suffered for weeks in recovery and incurred $30,000 in medical expenses due to medical malpractice may receive $100,000 or more to compensate his or her pain and suffering. Other courts use a per diem system that awards a set amount per day until the plaintiff reaches maximum medical recovery. For example, a plaintiff who required corrective surgery after malpractice may need to recover for several months and the jury will award a set amount per day for that time.

Expert Witnesses

Any medical malpractice case will involve expert witnesses. The jury will hear a medical expert’s opinion concerning whether a defendant’s behavior was acceptable given the standard of care for the plaintiff’s condition, and an expert witness will testify as to whether another reasonable physician with similar skills would have acted the same way in the same situation. Expert witnesses not only help determine whether defendants in medical malpractice cases violated the applicable standards of care, but also help the jury understand the effects on the plaintiff.

For example, imagine a doctor incorrectly diagnosing a patient with cancer. The patient undergoes chemotherapy, which is a very intensive treatment with a host of adverse side effects. The patient endures weeks of nausea, fatigue, muscle pains, and experiences hair loss and muscle deterioration because of chemotherapy. An expert witness with a background in oncology could help the jury understand the full scope of the patient’s experiences.

Ultimately, medical malpractice cases are very complex, and the amount a plaintiff could receive in pain and suffering compensation can fluctuate based on many possible factors. It is best for any plaintiff with a medical malpractice claim to find a skilled NYC medical malpractice lawyer who can provide an honest estimate of the amount of pain and suffering compensation a plaintiff is likely to expect from a successful case.