Punitive Damages in Virginia Medical Malpractice Cases

Punitive damages are a special category of cases that only exist when authorized by statute. Punitive damage exists for the purpose stated to punish a wrongdoer and ensure society that it does not accept certain types of behavior.

Some examples of situations that would award punitive damages include a doctor who performs an operation that they were not qualified for, a nurse who was intoxicated, or someone who operated on the wrong body part despite safeguards. Punitive damages are not available in ordinary negligence cases. There has to be an increased standard of pleading to obtain punitive damages. An experienced Virginia medical malpractice attorney can offer more advice on the matters of punitive damages.

Receiving Punitive Damages

For someone to receive punitive damages in a Virginia medical malpractice case, an individual has to prove a willful and wanton disregard of the rights of others. The willful or reckless disregard for the rights of others is a high standard that is defined by the law that claims that the person did not do the right thing, failed to know what the right thing was through affirmative action of their own, or did not take the time that they should have taken to do something that a person in the same circumstance would have done.

Punitive damages in Virginia medical malpractice cases would be awarded after the showing of a reckless or wanton disregard or disrespect to the rights of another individual. ‘Willful and wanton’ and ‘reckless disregard’ are legal terms that create a high standard on the party seeking to prove these damages.

Punitive damages in a Virginia medical malpractice case exist to shock the conscience, outraging the fact finder, public, or society.

Awarding Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are only awarded when properly asked for, pled, and proven by law. If the jury gets an instruction that they may give punitive damages for the case, the judge is going to decide whether or not the jury instruction is proper based upon the evidence that has been offered at court.

Deciding Factors

The factors that decide whether or not punitive damages will be awarded in a Virginia medical malpractice case and how they will be calculated are based on the shocking nature of the conduct. If it is a case that appalls a judge and jury, it will likely result in punitive damages.

For example, if a person suffers a terrible burn during surgery because of the known risk of certain equipment, that may not be a great case for punitive damages. But, if doctors and nurses ignore comments or warning signs and fail to follow proper known protocol and, as a result, the burn occurs because they neglected proper safety protocol, that would be a punitive damages case.

Punitive Damages vs. Economic and Non-Economic Damages

Punitive damages are not necessarily similar to economic and non-economic damages. The party awarding punitive damages, whether it is a judge or a jury, does not have to justify why they are awarding certain punitive damages. They just award them. They are given an instruction of what punitive damages are, the injured parties ask for a number, and the jury decides if that number is appropriate.

There are a lot of ways punitive damages are similar, but the calculation is one where they are more similar to economic versus non-economic damages because there is not necessarily a formula employed.

Economic and Non-Economic Damages in Awarding Punitive Damages

Though they are not expressly involved, a party must award both economic and non-economic damages and then come back and award punitive damages. Typically, they come in addition to the other two categories of damages. They often come when the jury or the fact finder feels that the non-economic and economic categories of damages are not sufficient to punish the wrongdoer and tell society that the behavior is not acceptable, so they give them another category of extra damages.

Hiring a Virginia Medical Malpractice Attorney

A Virginia medical malpractice attorney will handle a punitive damages case professionally. They will know what must be proven in a punitive damages case, how they can go about proving such information, and how they are going to go about collecting and preserving certain evidence that they need for the calculation of punitive damages. If you think you might be able to claim punitive damages in a Virginia medical malpractice case, contact an attorney today.