What Is a Damage Cap?

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Some states place limits on the maximum amount of financial compensation – or damages – an injured victim can obtain from a defendant during a civil lawsuit. These limits are called damage caps. While the damages available in most states are limit-free and based on what a jury deems appropriate, some states impose damage caps to prevent excessive jury awards. Nebraska is one of them.

damage cap definition

What Are Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases?

There are two main types of damages in a personal injury case: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages make a victim whole again after a harmful accident causes losses such as property damage and medical expenses. Punitive damages punish a defendant for being grossly negligent, malicious, or reckless by requiring him or her to pay the plaintiff more money.

The two types of compensatory damages are economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include past and future medical expenses, medical bills, lost wages, losses of income, property repairs, legal fees, travel expenses, and out-of-pocket costs. Noneconomic damages include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, lost quality of life, and loss of consortium.

A damage cap is a law that restricts how much a plaintiff can recover from a defendant. The point of a damage cap is to help the economy. It prevents defendants such as hospitals and the government from large payouts that could make them go bankrupt. It also discourages false claims. Currently, no state in the US has a universal cap on economic damages. The states that impose damage caps have them on noneconomic and punitive damages, for the most part. Damage caps also play a role in tort reform, particularly in addressing the cost and availability of medical liability insurance.

Does Nebraska Have Any Damage Caps on Punitive Damages?

Many states have ruled damage caps unconstitutional for plaintiffs in a personal injury claim and eliminated the caps they used to have in place. States that have gotten rid of their damage caps hold that a plaintiff should get to keep the amount of damages a jury decides is fair after hearing all the facts of the case. In several states, however, damage caps still exist for personal injury claims.

Nebraska currently has a cap on both noneconomic and economic damages in medical malpractice claims and personal injury lawsuits under Nebraska Revised Statute 44-2825. In Nebraska, injured accident victims who bring medical malpractice claims cannot receive more than the current cap permits. The state’s damage cap has withstood several attempts at legal challenges. The Nebraska Hospital-Medical Liability Act protects all healthcare providers from damages in excess of the following:

  • $500,000 for occurrences on or before December 31, 1984
  • $1 million for occurrences between December 31, 1984 and December 31, 1992
  • $1,250,000 for occurrences between December 31, 1992 and December 31, 2003
  • $1,750,000 for occurrences between December 31, 2003 and December 31, 2014
  • $2,250,000 for occurrences on or after December 31, 2014

Additionally, Nebraska has specific wrongful death damage caps, except in cases of felonious killing where no caps are imposed.

The $2.25 million cap is what applies to all current medical malpractice cases in Nebraska. The statute of limitations on a medical malpractice claim in Nebraska allows a plaintiff to file one year after he or she discovers the alleged act or omission. If a plaintiff is filing a claim for an act of malpractice that occurred before 2014, such as a foreign object left behind after surgery that the victim only recently discovered, a smaller damage cap may apply.

Comparative Negligence and Punitive Damages in Nebraska

Another law that could reduce the amount a plaintiff receives for a claim in Nebraska is the comparative negligence law (Statute 25-21,185.09). This law states that a plaintiff’s degree of fault for an accident will reduce his or her amount of damages proportionately. If the courts assign 20% of fault to a plaintiff, for example, they would reduce a $100,000 award by 20% ($20,000) to $80,000.

If you wish to bring a personal injury case in Omaha, contact a skilled personal injury lawyer for assistance with Nebraska’s damage caps and other state laws. A lawyer can help you maximize your recovery as much as possible under the current damage cap. Call (402) 431-9000 or fill out a contact form today.