Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, are a type of compensation for victims of personal injury lawsuits and other types of lawsuits, including cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits. Punitive damages are designed to essentially “punish” the defendant, or party being sued. In a cancer misdiagnosis case, the defendant is often a doctor or other medical professional or entity. Punitive damages also act to deter other parties from acting similarly. Punitive damages differ from compensatory damages, which focus on compensating the victim for the harm that they experienced.
When Punitive Damages Are Awarded
Punitive damages are not awarded often, as opposed to general damages and special damages. General and special damages are considered compensatory damages. Typically, punitive damages are only awarded in special cases. The Department of Justice estimates that punitive damages are awarded in a mere two percent of civil lawsuits that proceed to trial.
Malicious Intent or Severe Negligence
In most cases, punitive damages are used when the defendant’s actions were intentional, and exceptionally malicious or harmful. Punitive damages may also be deemed appropriate when the defendant’s actions were severely negligent or careless. The court may award punitive damages in cases where general damages and special damages are deemed inadequate to remedy the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s wrongdoing.
Examples of Cancer Misdiagnosis Punitive Damages
Examples of cancer misdiagnosis cases that may warrant punitive damages include:
- A doctor purposely misdiagnosing a patient with cancer in order to earn profit from cancer treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy
- A doctor choosing to treat a cancer patient with a less effective or accepted procedure than other available procedures, especially when the former is more profitable
- A doctor purposely altering a patient’s medical records, particularly when attempting to hide or misrepresent errors
- A doctor denying follow-up care to a cancer patient in an attempt to hide evidence of errors
- A doctor moving forward with a type of cancer treatment that is strongly medically contraindicated due to the patient’s risk factors, family history, side effects, or other reasons
- A doctor performing surgery or other medical procedures while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or otherwise knowingly impaired
- A cancer testing manufacturer that produces faulty tests, despite knowledge or evidence suggesting faultiness
Calculating Punitive Damages
Calculating punitive damages may be complex, as there is no clearly defined process or formula for calculation. The Supreme Court ruled that punitive damages should be proportional to compensatory damages. In general, the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages typically does not exceed four-to-one.
This means that the monetary award for punitive damages is typically not higher than four times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded in a single case. However, determination of punitive damages amounts remains in the hands of each state. State punitive damages laws apply to any cancer misdiagnosis or other medical malpractice lawsuits that take place in that particular state.
Punitive Damages by State
Each state has its own laws that dictate the nature of punitive damages and how they may be applied in different types of lawsuits. Some states completely outlaw punitive damages. These states include Louisiana, Nebraska, and Washington, among others. Certain states place restrictions on the types of cases in which punitive damages may be awarded. Additionally, some states impose more specific laws. For example, Texas requires a unanimous jury in order to award punitive damages.
Florida Punitive Damages Cap
Florida imposes a baseline punitive damages cap of three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. This means that most lawsuits may not award more than $500,000 in punitive damages to the defendant. However, there are exceptions to this cap. In cases where the defendant’s only motive was unreasonable financial gain, and the person or entity responsible for the defendant’s actions was aware of the danger of the defendant’s actions, the cap is $2 million. In cases where the defendant purposely intended to harm the plaintiff and succeeded, there is no cap on punitive damages.
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