Does North Carolina limit damages in medical malpractice cases?

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Medical malpractice law in the U.S. falls under the authority of the individual states. As medical malpractice lawsuits begin to proliferate in the late 20th century, and media accounts drew attention to the gigantic sums awarded in some individual and class action cases, a movement for tort reform gained strength nationwide. Today many states, including North Carolina, place a “cap” (limit), on the amount of “non-economic” compensation that a successful plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress that resulted from the defendant’s malpractice.


In 2011, North Carolina passed a tort reform law that made substantial changes to the laws for medical malpractice suits. One change increased protection for doctors providing emergency treatment. Another mandated that plaintiffs have to offer evidence of the amounts that they actually paid to settle medical bills, as opposed to the original bills, which are often considerably higher. The reform with the most impact was the establishment of a cap of $500,000 for non-economic damages, to be adjusted for inflation every year after the first three years.


In most states, the passage of medical malpractice tort reform results in many fewer malpractice cases filed. In North Carolina, lawsuit filings spiked in the month before the tort reform law took effect, then fell back and never bounced up again. “As expected, the number of cases filed monthly plummeted as soon as the law went into effect,” reported the NC Lawyers Weekly three years (the length of time a plaintiff has to file a medical malpractice claim) later. Data released by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts “strongly suggest that the 2011 tort reform law has permanently depressed the number of lawsuits being filed against allegedly slipshod doctors and hospitals.”


One important exception to North Carolina’s medical malpractice damages cap remains. The law does not apply, according to, in cases where “the injured patient suffered certain kinds of disfiguring or permanent injury AND the defendant’s malpractice arose from recklessness, malice, an intentional act, or gross negligence.” In such a case, all damages are uncapped.


Richard Manger, principal of Manger Law Firm, has extensive experience in litigation and settlements, with a focus on personal injury and workers’ compensation law. We are proud of the strong relationships of loyalty and trust we develop with our clients. We go above and beyond to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. You can contact Richard Manger via email at, or by calling (336) 882-2000.

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