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How Much Is a Life Worth?

It sounds like an impossible task, but our state legislators have done the impossible; they’ve put a price on your life.

 

In Texas, did you know that if you are injured, maimed, or even killed because of your doctor’s negligence, our laws restrict how much money you (or your family) can recover?  How can that be?

 

Surgeon’s Mistake

After experiencing excruciating abdominal pain, you find yourself at the hospital preparing to undergo an emergency appendectomy.  The surgery seems to go well, but you later discover something just doesn’t feel right. 

 

After an x-ray, you and your doctor discover that the surgeon, or someone on his team, left a surgical towel in your abdomen.  This has caused you excruciating pain, another surgery to remove the towel, and even more time away from work that you must spend in recovery.  How much can you recover?

 

Payday!

The Tort Reform Acts passed by the Texas Legislature in 2003 limit the amount of money you may recover.  You may only recover a maximum of $250,000 each from the physician and any other members of his team to be found at fault for noneconomic damages.  If you sue the hospital, you may only recover a maximum of $500,000 from the facility. 

 

You should also be aware of different rules for charity, non-profit, and government health care facilities that you must discuss with your attorney.

—See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.301

 

You may only recover a maximum of $500,000 for all damages, including exemplary damages, no matter how many individuals or health care providers were found to be at fault.  For example, suppose that the jury awarded noneconomic and exemplary damages to you in the amounts of $250,000 from the doctor, $250,000 from the nurse, and $500,000 from the hospital for a total of $1 million. 

—See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.303

 

The Tort Reform Act adopted by the legislature in 2003 means that you can only recover a maximum of $500,000 total for these injuries.

 

What are Noneconomic and Exemplary Damages?

Noneconomic damages are intended to compensate you for things such as physical pain and suffering, mental or emotional pain or anguish, physical impairment, disfigurement, and loss of consortium, along with others of this type. 

—See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.001(12)

 

These are the damages to your emotional well being.  These are the damages that do not pay you back for anything tangible, but attempt to make you whole because of what you have had to endure. These are the damages that are supposed to help compensate you for the loss of a loved one.

 

Exemplary damages are intended as punishment for the individual who harmed you.  These are imposed on individuals or companies with the idea that the courts will make it too expensive for them to continue their current behavior and entice them to change. 

—See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.001(5)

 

Are There Damages That Are Not Capped?

Yes.  These are the economic damages.  Economic damages are intended to compensate you for actual loss.  This includes money that you had to spend on the hospital bills, the extra surgery, and the rehabilitation clinic.  These types of damages are easily thought of as those which you would receive a receipt for, such as a hospital bill.  You would not receive a bill for emotional pain and suffering, so it is a noneconomic damage. 

—See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.001(12)

 

Suppose that in your botched surgery, your medical bills amounted to $1 million.  In this instance, since these are economic damages, you could recover the full $1 million, but that $1 million dollars doesn’t go to you or your family because you have to immediately pay that toward your medical bills.  Yay for the hospital! (sarcasm)

 

What Should I Do?

If you have been harmed and think you have a claim, speak with your personal injury attorney.  These types of suits are often expensive and time consuming, and there are many other issues in the statutes that must be addressed. 

 

These rules can lead to harsh results and unfair judgments for you and your family.  Many people are outraged over these unfair results, and believe that these rules infringe upon our constitutional right to have a jury determine what is fair. 

 

As you well know, according to our Texas Constitution, “the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”

—See Tex. Const. Art. 1 Bill of Rights, § 15

 

If you think that the acts discussed in this blog are unfair and should be changed, contact your legislative representative.  It is only through our collective voices as citizens that we can make our wishes known and create changes in our laws.  That is, unless you think your legislator has put the correct price on your, or your child’s, life.

—See Texas Legislature Contacts

 

--Authored by Carrie A. Harris, B.A.,

 

Matthew Harris Law, PLLC  - Civil Litigation Division

1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309

Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479

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How Valuable Is Your Life? (Monday, February 10, 2014)

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