“The only thing that stays the same is everything changes.” - Bobby Braddock
Like many states, Michigan “caps” or limits the maximum amount of money a plaintiff may receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit for a certain category of damages. You may be familiar with the terms “low cap” and “high cap” cases. Every year the limits of the caps are adjusted according to the consumer price index. In 2016, both caps went down, from the 2015 all-time high. The only other year the caps went down, as opposed to increasing, was in 2010. This comes as no surprise as the limits are connected to the economy. For 2016, the low cap is $438,800 and the high cap is $783,500.
The cap on damages applies to noneconomic damages, which means damages or loss due to pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment or physical disfigurement, or loss of enjoyment of life. Any damages or losses claimed by the patient’s spouse are also included in the same cap, which typically are loss of companionship claims.
Economic damages, which are not included in the cap, are not limited. Economic damages include compensation for past medical expenses, ongoing medical care, lost income, harm to the plaintiff’s ability to earn a living, and any other measurable financial losses related to the malpractice.
When determining their verdict, the jury must separate damages into economic and noneconomic losses, but the jury may not be informed of the caps on noneconomic loss. If the jury awards noneconomic damages exceeding the cap, the judge will reduce the award to comply with the cap.
For non-economic damages, the low cap applies unless there are special circumstances that entitle the plaintiff to the high cap. In order to be eligible for the high cap, the plaintiff must have paralysis from brain or spinal injury, permanently impaired cognitive function, or lost the ability to procreate due to permanent damage to or loss of a reproductive organ.
Over the last ten years, the caps have been as follows:
Year Low Cap High Cap
economic damages, economic damages, with
no special circumstances special circumstances
2006 $382,800 $683,500
2007 $394,200 $704,000
2008 $401,500 $717,000
2009 $410,800 $733,500
2010 $408,200 $729,000
2011 $411,300 $734,000
2012 $424,800 $758,500
2013 $433,400 $774,000
2014 $440,200 $786,000
2015 $444,900 $794,500
2016 $438,800 $783,500
The low cap and high cap values are adjusted every year and posted on the Michigan Department of Treasury’s website. A jury verdict is subject to the cap value in effect at the time judgment is entered.