Unfortunately, the advocates for tort reform secured a victory in the Tar Heel state. The North Carolina state legislature placed an arbitrary, unfair “damage cap” of $500,000 for noneconomic damages.
Basically, in any personal injury case, there are two primary types of damages a plaintiff can pursue: economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages cover things like your lost wages. Noneconomic damages cover your emotional and psychological trauma.
According to § 90-21.19(a) of the North Carolina Code, the damages that can be recovered by a medical malpractice victim for pain and suffering against all defendants cannot exceed $500,000. Any Judgment that exceeds this limit will actually be modified by the courts to fit the $500,000.00 cap.
However, not all hope is lost. There is a provision in the law that provides some flexibility around the cap. If the judge or jury finds both that (1) the plaintiff suffered disfigurement, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injury or death AND (2) the defendant acted with reckless disregard or with malice, then damages can be awarded that surpass the $500,000 cap.
Essentially, this means that if your injury is significant and it can be established that the defendant doctor acted recklessly, then there’s a chance that the $500,000 cap would not apply. If a jury is acting as the trier of fact, then the jury will not receive a damage cap instruction.
There are also reserved punitive damages, which are separate from the $500,000 noneconomic damages cap that can be awarded. Though, punitive damages may not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages OR $250,000.00, whichever is greater. So, basically, you’ll get the larger sum of either $250K or three times the amount you receive in compensatory damages.
The major problem with damage caps in general is that it is very hard to place a set limit on the damages that should be afforded to injured parties due to the medical negligence of a physician or care provider. It is also questionable to place a set number of $500,000 as a cap without any real reason as to where this number comes from and why.